David Mitchell is an eloquent conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist. His hypnotic new novel, The Bone Clocks, crackles with invention and wit - it is fiction at its most spellbinding and memorable.
Following a scalding row with her mother, 15-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as "the radio people", Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life. For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics - and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly's life, affecting all the people Holly loves - even the ones who are not yet born. A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list - all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world.
From the medieval Swiss Alps to the 19th-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder. Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together.
©2014 David Mitchell (P)2014 W.F. Howes
There's nothing wrong with pretending you know what's going on...sometimes you are along for the ride and will get it later. (Take Cloud Atlas for instance.) Mitchell does that best, and at a speed that sometimes reminds me of trying to have a conversation with a hyper active person at the height of their hyper arc (and pharmaceutically enhanced). His brilliance and out-there creativity require a catch-up period; you don't wait for the story to develop, you wait to catch-up with the story. I'm not a member of the Mitchell cult, but I've read many of his books and recognize an author with a rare creative talent and freshness that almost promises there are still great books to come. The Bone Clocks was a good one, (it was long-listed for a Man Booker before it was even released). I liked it enough to say Mitchell fans will be okay with it, but it is a departure from his more sophisticated novels.
Bone Clocks is not just a journey through time at warp speed, it is a frenetic jump in and out of ages with the future periods reflecting on some I-told-you-so moments that are frighteningly timely (global warming, Iraq, etc.),major issues to us presently, but just back ground for an eternal battle raging between the forces of good and evil. He obviously has a message for his readers in here.
Mitchell bends the boundaries, as usual, with connected characters, engaging backstories, and places in time, but pinning down which character you are with, and at what moment and where, is tricky. The constant present tense, the static back and forth, and the similarities in the characters, present challenges -- and not the kind intended by the author. The audio version is probably an advantage in some ways, (the presentation is done well) but the voice alone doesn't tell you when or where. Mitchell's presence is always looming subconsciously; Bone Clocks seemed to be lacking separation from the author.
The level of writing and creativity have already been expounded on by reviewers. Worth mentioning again is Mitchell's superb "ventriloquistic" style that pulls you in while the story unfolds around you. The story itself expands on Mitchell's on-going play with fantasy; he gives us a version of *vampires* -- soul sucking fiends that feed on children. But, these are Mitchell's vampires, so I am pretending I get it... that these undead might just be metaphors for something deeper and more meaningful.
The story is enjoyable and reminded me a little of the fantastical film, Highlander (the movie with the Scottish swordsman that battles the evil immortal, the two swordsmen popping in and out of time periods and places). It wasn't exactly the book I anticipated, but I saw plenty of glimmers of Mitchell's brilliance. Worth the read, but probably not worth the Man Booker.
I sort of worship at the altar of David Mitchell, so of course I loved this book. He is simply a masterful writer. And the narrators were all quite good. But the narration was nevertheless a major problem for me. The character around whom the book is structured is Holly Sykes, who we meet in her own voice in the first and last decades of her life. In the other episodes, someone else's story is told, though Holly Sykes is always a character in their stories. It makes sense to have different narrators for different episodes, since many of the stories are told by other characters. The problem is that Holly absolutely comes alive in the first episode: beautifully narrated and wonderfully written. In all the later episodes, she is incredibly flat. I kept looking for some sign of her individuality and her humanity, but really never saw it. So either David Mitchell has not successfully drawn an engaging portrait of Holly through the various decades of her life (quite possible), or I just couldn't get past the fact that when Holly talked in all the later episodes, she had a different voice and thus was not herself, making it difficult for me to connect her to the girl I met in the first episode. So now, after having invested many many hours in listening to the audiobook, I have to buy the book and read it if I want to decide whether or not David Mitchell really is all that. A lot is at stake here! I've been telling everyone I know that he's the best writer of his generation in the English language, and if he's written a crappy central character, I have to stop saying that! Or else he has to let me edit his next novel before it goes to press. Everybody needs an editor or twelve or twenty.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
David Mitchell’s sixth novel is a globe-and-time-hopping six-part meditation on the way death shapes human existence, though we may try to deny it beneath the trappings of modernity. As in Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, there isn’t a traditional narrative drivetrain, but a loose story thread that passes through multiple characters, all of whom seem like they might have come from different novels, but are pulled together by a shared degree of separation.
While Mitchell has always played with magic realism, here he goes for out-and-out fantasy, an indulgence that editors might would have talked a less-established writer out of. If you recall the ageless villain in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell has expanded this mystery into an ongoing supernatural war between two factions of immortals, the Anchorites (who prolong their lives by sacrificing psychically-gifted victims) and the Horologists (who are reborn into new bodies each time they die, but also with a sacrifice of sorts).
For the first four acts of the novel (roughly 400 pages), this conflict remains mostly in the background, with bits of it spilling a la Murakami into the primary characters’ lives, usually in the form of visions or encounters that they don’t understand. The first act follows Holly Sykes, whom we meet through her own words as a teenager in 1984 England, when she runs away from home. In the second, she becomes an important figure in the life of a charming but manipulative young Cambridge University libertine, who has just schemed himself into a corner. In 2004, we see her through the eyes of her husband, a journalist covering the awful early days of the Iraq occupation, who has a glimpse into Holly’s psychic gifts at a crucial moment. And later, she becomes friends with a cantankerous 50-ish author whose star is falling fast, and a vehicle for some good “literary” wit.
As always, Mitchell’s ability to hop between tones, styles, places, and voices is impressive. The first four acts of the novel have to be read as separate stories, though the reader will notice shared elements, images, locations, characters, and ideas that ripple and reflect through them. And, of course, that each protagonist is older than the last, gradually shifting the perspective on mortality. However, several of the characters feel more like artfully crafted "types" than real people, and I wondered if so much time needed to be spent in the worlds of privileged students or famous novelists to make the point. (Maybe?)
The fifth act, where the paranormal Anchorite/Horologist war at last comes to the fore, dragging in Holly, may strike readers as a little silly, with its talk of “psychic voltages”, “old souls”, and “chakra eyes”. There’s an elaborate history here, and we take a trip back to Czarist Russia and 19th century Australia, but the essential struggle isn’t complex. One side seeks eternal youth via a system that exploits others; the other seeks deeper continuity, but has limited power. Looked at one way, it’s fantasy cosmology; looked at another, it’s the very struggle in our souls.
So we arrive at the last act, told from an older Holly’s perspective, set in a grim 2040s where the supernatural good guys have been unable to save humanity from the consequences of its own actions, though there’s a ray of bittersweet hope. In trying to hide from our own individual mortality, do we collectively hasten it for civilization? Good question.
Probably more than Mitchell's other novels, this one is written in the security of a fanbase, and might frustrate the non-initiate who randomly pulls it off a shelf. But, I'm part of the club and I couldn't help but enjoy the ambition, ideas, craft, storytelling, connections, and resonant themes. I also had fun reviewing it in my mind afterwards, working out deeper meanings -- as one needs to with Mitchell.
The voice actors are mostly pretty capable, though Eddie’s and Crispin’s sound a little too old, and some accents might have been better.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
It is hard to not like David Mitchell. He is literary, just not too literary. He is funky, just not too funky. He is hip, just not too hip. He is political, just not too political. He is spiritual, but also seems to leave room for a bit of humanist doubt. I can't think of another writer who captures the energy or direction of the slick, urban, cosmopolitan, educated, 21st century global zeitgeist.
David Mitchell is brilliant at ventriloquism and style-jumping. His books are filled with multiple narrative and style incarnations (the stacking-doll Cloud Atlas, or narrative leaping number9dream, or his most recent The Bone Clocks), but sometime I feel like he is starting to eat his own tail here. I want to see Mitchell do a Peter Carey and jump out of his slick, crowd-pleasing novels into something a bit different.
Do I know exactly what I want? No. I just see this author who I've liked enough to read everything he's ever published, and fear that we might just get two or three more of these books. I like them. Don't get me wrong. I liked 'The Bone Clocks' enough to give it four stars and review and read it. I just don't want to see Mitchell begin to get so comfortable in his archipelago of interconnected narratives that he doesn't push his talent into dark, rough, and uncomfortable places.
Anyway, Mitchell hasn't written a novel YET that I'm very disappointed with and Bone Clocks is no exception. There might be a couple slower chapters and the ending might have been a bit predictable, but I had a hard time putting the novel down while reading and was sad to put it down when I finished. That isn't rare for me, but it is a pretty good indication that the novel is on solid ground. People keep claiming to see the death of the novel around the corner, but Mitchell's talent and narrative slickness is at least one star that keeps consistently reappearing.
A point on the narration. A couple of the narrations (Jessica Ball, etc) were a tad difficult for me. They worked, but they were so heavily accented that I couldn't listen to it faster than 1.5 speed without losing the thread of what was being said. Not a huge critique, but just my two pence.
Audible books are the perfect companion for my 4 mile morning walk!
Long. Engrossing. Excellent.
I've read a lot of the new "climate fiction" genre. Although The Bone Clocks is about much more than that, I'd put it at the top of the list with "2084 - Stories of the Great Warming."
I did tear up at the end. It's a long book, so by then you're really invested.
This is the second book I have read by David Mitchell. I am so glad I stumbled upon his work. The Cloud Atlas, for me, was so inspiring and moving. I have re-read it and it is one of my top ten books of all time.
His new book, The Bone Clocks does not carry the same feeling for me, which was initially disappointing. Yet as I stayed with it I found I loved this one too, just in a different way. I would recommend his books to anyone who truly enjoys a good story, but would caution to them to be patient and stay with it as it is a large book that builds slowly. It is a true joy to see the bigger picture begin to develop. His characters are so rich and varied you begin to really get to know and love (or hate) them. The time spent with this book is truly worth it in the end. Stick with it and enjoy the storytelling. This will appeal to readers who are interested in fantasy, sci-fi, or just good storytelling with depth.
Addicted to books, both print and audio-.
I'm not a David Mitchell fan; I got through Thousand Autumns, but gave up on Cloud Atlas. I might give Cloud Atlas another try. I tried this book because of Ursula K. LeGuin's review in The Guardian; Ursula's opinion carries a lot of weight with me. I found The Bone Clocks to be seriously uneven. The first three sections & characters I found compelling, interesting and well narrated. The fourth section was difficult because it seemed to go on for a LONG time and the character was just so unpleasant. This might have been an easier read than listen; audiobooks come to life to such a degree that sometimes it's great and sometimes it's a downside. I didn't want to spend any more time with Crispin Hershey . . . but I got through it. I felt section 5 was by far the weakest part of the book. It's where the supernatural elements are strongest, and I just didn't believe it. I'm happy to go along with any number of fantastic constructs and worlds, but I need them to be well constructed and prepared for. These were not; it seemed like Mitchell just came up with a bunch of cool-sounding words and threw them at us. If the psychic weaponry and war make sense to him, that's fine, but it needs to make sense to me as well, and it really, really didn't. The narrator for section 5 didn't really work for me, and constantly mispronounced "Poughkeepsie." A small thing, I know, but it really got on my nerves after the first few times.
I enjoyed the final section of the book.
Overall I feel like Mitchell came up with some really interesting characters and didn't do much of interest with them. He can certainly write, no question about that. But the book didn't move me, and the supernatural aspect of the story was so weak that I'm left with no idea why he wrote the book at all.
The Bone Clocks is absolutely the best book I have read/listened to in the last 10 years. The story is complicated and the twists are amazing! David Mitchell does an excellent job of slowly, deliciously unwinding this tale of good and evil. I read or listen to 2-3 books a week. Honestly, I never read/listen to a book twice. However, this book will be the exception. I am anxious to listen again to uncover the details that I missed the first time around. The kind of imagination, real characters, excellent context, and treatment of an age old battle makes David Mitchell now, one of my favorite authors. I will be looking for more of his books!
A Discovery of Witches trilogy
I especially loved the scene in which the maze prophecy comes to fruition and Holly used a common implement to vanquish evil..
Jacko as a missing child and the reunion was moving.
OK - so David Mitchell's writing is not everyone's cup of tea. Some people don't care for the meandering style, non-linear plot development, sci-fi currents, etc. Those people should not read this book. But for those of us who have loved his other books, The Bone Clocks does not disappoint. Compelling characters, interesting unexpected plot with twists aplenty. And a bedrock of writing that is a pleasure to listen to. I enjoyed all of the various readers (and applaud the decision of having a cast, not a single reader). Mitchell is a genius at capturing different voices. His eye for detail makes for vivid imagery. Some may say that there were story tangents that were unnecessary and should have been edited out. Fair enough. But for me, it just makes the experience richer and provided an excuse to listen to more beautifully written story.
David Mitchell is a masterful story teller whose plot and characters are woven together as neatly and ingeniously as a Swiss watch.
However this latest book is more like a brainstorming session then a completed work. The plot is strangely paced, confusing and at times down right boring. The characters are well drawn and interesting at times and oddly disjointed at others.
In his other books, David Mitchell's ideas are presented with subtle enigma, persuasively hinted at, leaving room for imagination and interpretation. Then the grand puzzles of all the plots and themes fit together at the end of the novel with a satisfying click.
This novel beats you over the head with it's political doctrine. OK!, you want to shout, We get it!<
This would make a fine first draft that might become a fine novel after many revisions.
However, I did persist to the end, why? Because DM is the man, no other writer like him, I will probably read whatever he writes.
But please David Mitchell, next time release a novel worthy of a writer of your talent -I look forward to it.
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