The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks

September 2, 2014

The Bone Clocks is a 2014 fantasy by David Mitchell, published in 2014. Using multiple points-of-view, Mitchel describes a hidden world of psychic abilities and immortal figures locked in an endless war. Mitchell nests narratives so that stories set ...

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640 Pages
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The Bone Clocks is a 2014 fantasy by David Mitchell, published in 2014. Using multiple points-of-view, Mitchel describes a hidden world of psychic abilities and immortal figures locked in an endless war. Mitchell nests narratives so that stories set later in the chronology illuminate those that have come before.

The Bone Clocks is a novel by British writer David Mitchell. It was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014,and called one of the best novels of 2014 by Stephen King. The novel won the 2015 World Fantasy Award.

 

The novel is divided into six sections with five first-person point-of-view narrators. They are loosely connected by the character of Holly Sykes, a young woman from Gravesend who is gifted with an "invisible eye" and semi-psychic abilities, and a war between two immortal factions, the Anchorites, who derive their immortality from murdering others, and the Horologists, who are naturally able to reincarnate.

 

The title refers to a derogatory term the immortal characters use for normal humans, who are doomed to mortality because of their aging bodies.

 

David Stephen Mitchell (born 12 January 1969) is an English novelist and screenwriter.

 

He has published seven novels, two of which, number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 2012, Cloud Atlas was made into a film and in 2013 a short film, The Voorman Problem, was made from a scene of number9dream.

 

The book consists of six stories set during different times of Holly’s life.

A Hot Spell, 1984: Fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes runs away from home to live with her 24-year-old boyfriend

Myrrh Is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume, 1991: Hugo Lamb, an amoral politics student at the fictional Humber College, Cambridge, encounters a beautiful woman who calls herself Immaculée Constantin at a choir rehearsal, who tells him that immortality is possible.

The Wedding Bash, 2004: Ed Brubeck, now a 35-year-old war journalist, returns to England for Holly's younger sister's wedding. A war junkie, he had initially planned to move back to London to settle down with Holly and their six-year-old daughter Aoife, while secretly planning to return to Baghdad instead.

Crispin Hershey’s Lonely Planet, 2015: From 2015 to 2020, author Crispin Hershey, once a literary wunderkind, sees his fortunes decline.

An Horologist’s Labyrinth, 2025: In 2025 Marinus begins to receive messages from Esther Little, who she had previously believed dead.

 

 

 

Review:

theguardian.com

William Skidelsky

 

Even by its author's impressive standards, David Mitchell's Booker-longlisted sixth novel is recklessly ambitious. It is composed of six parts, each of which deals with a different chapter in the life of Holly Sykes, a teenage runaway who grows up to become a successful memoirist. Two sections – the first and last – are narrated by Holly herself; the others by figures who at various points come into contact with her. In the first section, set in 1984, 15-year-old Holly goes on the lam in Gravesend, Kent, after falling out with her parents and discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her. In the final part, set some 60 years later, an elderly Holly hunkers down on Ireland's west coast as the world lurches towards environmental apocalypse and the global socio-economic order disintegrates.

 

In between, Mitchell ranges between styles and genres with his usual promiscuity. There's an embryonic Oxbridge novel that sees precocious, amoral Hugo Lamb describe his predatory life as a Cambridge undergraduate. (The link with Holly is that he seduces her at a Swiss ski resort.) Next, we skip forward to 2004, where we find Holly's partner, a foreign correspondent, ignoring the needs of his family while he fixates on the horrors he's just witnessed in Iraq. In the near future, there's an elaborate (and extremely funny) literary satire that centres on Crispin Hershey, a former "wild child of British literature" whose career is in freefall. (He befriends Holly on the literary festival circuit.) The fifth section, meanwhile, is wholly different from all the others; it concerns (yes, really) a centuries-long battle between two tribes of immortal beings.

 

Those acquainted with Mitchell's previous work will know that, in his fictional universe, pretty much anything can happen. Still, the genre-bending he attempts in The Bone Clocks is startling. Over the first four sections (which, for the most part, are realist narratives), the reader becomes aware that some decidedly weird stuff is going on in the background. Life as it is ordinarily lived can, seemingly at random, be cosmically interfered with. At such moments, the fabric of the physical world parts like a curtain, revealing figures from a shadowy alternative realm.

 

The agents of this tampering are "atemporals" : ostensibly normal beings who live among their human counterparts, carrying on their dark work largely undetected. The atemporal realm is itself split between the Horologists, who achieve immortality through reincarnation, and the Anchorites, who fuel their longevity by ritually slaughtering children. Basically, the Horologists are good guys – blameless recyclers who use their powers to do good. The Anchorites, meanwhile, are selfish plunderers who look out only for themselves.

 

The two tribes' contrasting methods of life-prolongation are significant, for they connect the novel's fantasy subplot with its author's real-world ethical and environmental preoccupations. Throughout his career, Mitchell has been interested in the relationship between personal and planetary ethics; in how individual self-interest can be reconciled with the larger imperative of human survival. The tribes in The Bone Clocks embody different approaches to such questions.

 

In the Crispin Hershey section, a literary agent tells him that "a book can't be half-fantasy any more than a woman can be half-pregnant". And indeed, there are many reasons why a novel like The Bone Clocks shouldn't work. Yet what's surprising – and a testament to Mitchell's singular abilities – is that for the most part it does. It helps that Mitchell keeps a tight lid on the fantasy element while the more realist sections are under way; the activities of the atemporals are glimpsed only in fragments, which pique the reader's curiosity but don't distract from the main story. Because the two elements don't bleed too much into each other, The Bone Clocks doesn't end up feeling like a clumsy halfway house.

 

And along the way, there's much to relish. Mitchell's plotting is as intricate as ever, and he indulges in many familiar tricks. Themes, characters and images recur in different configurations, as in a complex musical work; characters from earlier Mitchell books make guest appearances; there are sly references to Mitchell's literary reputation, as well as to the works of other writers. (One of Crispin Hershey's early novels, for example, is called Desiccated Embryos. Geddit?) It's all a bit mad, and in some ways quite silly, and, no doubt, questions will be asked about what The Bone Clocks finally adds up to, whether, in fact, it can be classed as "serious" literature at all. (For this reason, I doubt it will win the Booker.) But such questions largely miss the point. Mitchell is a writer who will always do his own thing, and the question to ask about his work isn't how profound it is, or what category it belongs to, but how much fun it is to read. And on that measure, The Bone Clocks scores highly.

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