Originally published November 2014
I think David Mitchell just may be Jonathan Franzen’s Irish brutha-from-anotha-mutha.
While reading The Bone Clocks, I felt as if I had been dropped in the middle of a foreign country, where my mother tongue was also their native language, but it was spoken very quickly and heavily accented. Full disclosure—British (or in this case, Irish) lit always throws me for a loop for the first hundred pages or so. But once I figure out the cadence, the book takes hold.
Such as the case with this Sci-Fi/fantasy novel—more up Mitchell’s alley but a far cry from the only other work of his I have read, The Reason I Jump. The first 100 pages of this 600-plus page book were challenging only in that Holly Sykes’ Gravesend accent drips from each and every word. Once that was tackled, it was on to the plotline.
And it’s a strange one indeed—a 15-year-old Holly, distraught over a lover’s betrayal, embarks on a journey into the countryside to escape all that she’s been wronged by. Almost immediately, new and strange characters are introduced, each with their own intricate story web, which is why in many ways I felt as if I was reading Franzen—multiple characters, varied backstories, some more tightly woven than others.
The story stretches from the modern mid-’80s to 2043, a somewhat post-Apocalyptic landscape where it’s become clear our ignorance of global warming has come to visit in spades, the Chinese control the politics of the future and the Internet is but a dream. Characters come and go, some intertwined, but Holly, her compatriot-turned-lover war journalist Ed Brubeck, Cambridge cad Hugo Lamb and middling author Crispin Hershey feature prominently throughout, as the war between factions of a deathless society wages on.
And that’s where the Sci-Fi genre takes hold—Holly is first approached and groomed by a certain Ms. Constantin, of the Anchorite clan, as a possible soul to be feasted upon by her carnivorous crew. Instead, she is protected by Dr. Marinus and Esther Little, also part of a small group of souls that never die; rather, once their earthly vessel expires, their souls simply slip into another being slated for death.
I’m not sure I could explain much further without fouling up the plotline or giving too much away—for me, it was wildly interesting, but not as much as the inter-personal relationships which Mitchell delves into, heartily. The lengths which Hugo goes to in screwing over his friends, while falling for Holly; the disastrous turn Hershey takes in exacting revenge on a reviewer; Ed’s conflict between the duties of home and his passion for work …. it’s engrossing, to say the least.
If you choose to take this one on, block off time, as it’s not an easy book to pick up and put down repeatedly. You’ll find yourself re-reading sections to remember who is who and who did what and why they did what they did. It’s heavy on the heart in many respects, but a very, very well-written read.