I know I rave about books all the time. I’ve been called out more than once by N. for overselling a book that’s only really good. Not the case with David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. This novel is genius. Extraordinary in so many ways: in its approach to genre, to plot, to character.In its hyper-imaginative renderings of the near future world and of the past. It’s a book that asks about mortality, familial-responsibility, ecological-responsibility, identity and grief. It’s a book that gives the finger to genre tick-boxes and plots made-for-movies. It revels in the brilliant beauty of its own writing without being showy. It’s exuberant in the possibilities for the novel as a form and for readers as enthusiastic consumers of imagined worlds and people.
Without spoiling too much (and part of the beauty and magic of the reading is in watching the apparently separate weave into each other so I really will avoid spoiling anything): the book opens with the (hilariously captured 80s British schoolgirl) Holly Sykes as she experiences psychic phenomena and a ruinous encounter with her boyfriend. Spanning seventy-odd years, the novel takes the reader through characters bound to Holly all while exploring what it means to be a person, a person-in-relation-to – what it means to be in time and to be “of” a particular time.
Somehow Mitchell manages to convey the beauty of small, intimate moments that feel small and inconsequential as you’re reading them, only to have these moments reverberate and expand across the sweep of the narrative in a way that expands the scope of the story from the private lives of the characters that narrate the (at once discrete and inseparably bound) chapters to a sort of ontology of time and ecology.
I should add that by taking us through characters the novel does (again) extraordinary work in capturing the voices, personalities and specificities of each character. In a meta-moment, Crispin Hershey – who flirts the line between first and second person throughout his section – a once-bestselling-author gives advice to a creative writing class to “write a letter from your character to yourself” as an exercise in getting to know their own characters. This reader had to remind herself that she was, in fact, reading a character: so fully realized and imagined, so nuanced and dense and alive and full were each of the characters that populate this world.
All laid overtop a gripping fantasy-esque plot line of shadowy villains, secret passageways, mistaken identities and duels. But it’s not *magic* in the unicorns sort of way, nor fantasy in the wizards and elves. No these are fantastical elements that this reader accepted and believed – and partially wondered if Mitchell isn’t such a genius because he is part of this fantastical order (how else to explain his absolutely extraordinary powers of narrative?). Fantastical elements sort of like believing government is a force for good or corporations are working against us (reverse these two based on your political ideology, I suppose). Which is to say, the elements of fantasy are made real both through the realism of the narrative telling, but because the reader believes – and wants to believe – they are real. Like Santa, I suppose. And because the novel weaves the realistic with the fantastical in ways that afford no space for question or disbelief.
It’s hard to say enough about how much I loved this book, but I can’t say much without ruining it for you. So go! go read it! And then come back and we can talk about all the ways Mitchell is a genius and reading makes our lives better.