“If you could reason with religious people, there wouldn’t be any religious people,” writes David Mitchell in his latest offering The Bone Clocks. The internet tells me that this isn’t the first time Mitchell has been both witty and daring whilst embracing vivid descriptions such as “the wood sounds like waves, with rooks tumbling about like black socks in a dryer”.
Six novellas form the 600+ page monster of a book which is packed with alternate perspectives that don’t seem to be connected at first, but of course are. Small moments which seem insignificant turn out out to be the key turning points of the novel. Second and third readings would definitely help as it seems impossible to truly ‘get’ everything the first time round.
The novel follows the life of Holly Sykes from the 1980s to the post apocalyptic world in 2043. Holly narrates the opening and closing novellas while in between four others link Holly’s teenage lifestyle to her elderly one – although, she of course makes a few cameo appearances. Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, Crispin Hershey and Marinus are vastly different characters who each get roughly 100 pages to connect with the reader before being torn away. I won’t spoil who they are or how the connect the story because the process of figuring that out is one of the most gripping elements of the book.
Another aspect that makes The Bone Clocks one of the most desirable of its genre is how Mitchell captures reality within fantasy. When you’re reading Harry Potter you’re always aware that it’s a fantastical world, however with The Bone Clocks the sound of Holly’s tantrum about “feckin’ Oireland” merges reality with fantasy, engulfing the reader just that little bit more.
So it’s no surprise that The Bone Clocks made the Man Booker Long List in 2014 and won the 2015 World Fantasy Award. It brings to light hugely relevant themes in subtle and intelligent ways. For instance, the question of mortality lingers throughout the novel but is never overbearing. No one explicitly cries over their impending death but the fragility of life is always felt – as put in the novel, “life is a terminal illness”.
Other impressive lines include, “Shit, meet Fan. Fan, this is Shit” and “Adverbs are cholesterol in the veins of prose. Halve your adverbs and your prose pumps twice as well”. While one is humorous and the other just plain clever, they both encompass every writers goal of capturing the unsaid truth. It’s a difficult and rare thing to do but Mitchell manages this easily all the way through. Another of my personal favourites lines is, “astronomers at the University of Bullshitshire have just found new evidence that, yes, teenagers really are the centre of the universe.” For a novel that will make you laugh, hold your breath and maybe (almost) cry, The Bone Clocks is brilliant.
Jessikah Hope Stenson