– SPOILER FREE REVIEW –
Title: The Bone Clocks
Author: David Mitchell
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Release date: September 2nd, 2014
| Add to Goodreads |
Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-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 nineteenth-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.
The Bone Clocks is a journey spanning 60 decades all across the world. It is composed of several different stories that in the end come together as one. There are touches of fantasy and science fiction, but these aren’t the main focus of the novel – the characters and the theme of connection are. It was a very complex read and you have to pay attention to details, but it ultimately rewards you with a well crafted and bittersweet tale that stays with you.
For one voyage to begin, another voyage must come to an end.
As I said, The Bone Clocks has a very complex plot. It’s told in six sections that separately could stand as novellas, each of them told by a character in different locations in time and place. Although the connection might not be evident at first, you start putting the pieces together chapter after chapter and it’s very rewarding. The plot is hard to explain because each section has its own focus and you never really know where it’s leading you. You just keep reading about these characters and different moments in their lives. Overall, the main theme is connection, how lives intertwine and how people are affected by those encounters or moments. With this topic we get to explore regrets, lost opportunities, success, and where choices can lead us, as people and as humanity. We also get themes such as war-zone addiction and a satirical look at the publishing industry, which I found really interesting.
If life didn’t change, it wouldn’t be life, it’d be a photograph.
I would say this book has fantasy, but it’s not a fantasy book. Of course, it does play a big role, as the fantasy elements are woven into the lives of the characters and it brings the whole story together, but if you focus on it, it feels incomplete. I felt I was reading about a world that had been previously explored in another book I hadn’t read, which might have even been the case because David Mitchell incorporates a lot of the same stories and characters in all his different books. We have two groups called Anchorites and Horologists at war, but we only skim the surface on who they really are. I still understood what was going on, but at times I felt lost because I didn’t know exactly what was possible in their world. I didn’t know what powers they had or how they worked, so I never knew how high were the stakes for each group. Also, the writing of the fantasy parts was my least favorite, it was so silly! All the words that were thrown around and all the concepts that weren’t explained sounded so goofy to me without an explanation. Almost every action by any of the people from these groups was preceded with the word ‘psycho’ or ‘sub’ to indicate it was done within the reaches of the mind, it was very annoying after a while. For example: “Pfenninger psycholassos him, reeling him in with mighty pulls, then kinetics him twenty feet high”, I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly it sounded and it took away the seriousness of the scene.
The impossible is negotiable. What is possible is malleable.
I will admit this novel is confusing and I was constantly wondering ‘what is going on?’, but each character’s life makes you want to keep reading even if you don’t quite get the big picture. We start the story with a fifteen year old Holly, who is really the one that brings all their stories together throughout the book. I loved her, she was an amazing character and her growth was well done. She was the perfect amount of brat, strong, smart, and skeptical. Then we have Hugo, Ed, and Crispin. These three characters were awesome as well, especially because they were really flawed and I still cared about them. David Mitchell doesn’t shy away from creating difficult characters, characters that wear their faults with pride and that transform with each page into a complex person whose life you are interested about. I found Hugo and Crispin especially mesmerizing because they were terrible people, but you get to understand them.
Here’s the truth: Who is spared love is spared grief.
The next section we have is from Marinus‘ point of view, which was my least favorite. I use the neutral pronoun they to refer to Marinus because they embodied both female and male bodies throughout their lives. I didn’t really get any personality from them and their section was all the fantasy info dump I was scared of. It was disappointing because the plot had been carefully crafted up to this point and this section took away some of its force. We then come full circle and finish the book with Holly in a beautifully bittersweet note.
Normal is whatever you have come to take for granted.
The writing was unlike anything I’ve ever read before so I had a hard time with it at first. It was filled with many references to music, literature, and history and I would classify it as borderline pretentious. I mean that as a compliment (most of the times, at least). The style fitted the characters really well and I enjoyed it because it got to be serious, playful, ironic, and beautiful at the same time. This book has so many amazing quotes, I kept highlighting everything!
My heart was left in little pieces after I finished this incredibly complex tale, but I felt accomplished. The Bone Clocks is a challenging read that brings our world to life through unapologetic characters and highlights how connected we can be and how the choices we make matter.