21st Century,  General Fiction

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you may have read the disastrous experience I had reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. If you do not, you can read it here. But, when my Twitter feed went crazy this summer with pictures of a gorgeous and very tempting The Bone Clocks review copy, I knew I had to give Mitchell another try. So, I pre-ordered the book and have saved until I had a whole week to just read and pay as much attention to the story as I think second chances deserve.

From 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.

What first called my attention about The Bone Clocks is that, maybe, it could be a crime novel. Or it was verging on a thriller because the book starts with a disappearance. So, if I was ever to give Mitchell a second chance – and I was very willing to since most bloggers I trust adore him- I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Now, having read the book had I known what it was really about, I would have second thoughts about pre-ordering it, but I am glad it was a leap of faith and I thought that this time, I was going to enjoy Mitchell’s novel. I did! I gave the book a 5-star review over at Goodreads.

I think the marketing campaign should stress even more that this is Holly’s book. Of course, there are many other characters across time and space, in what I have decided is a very Mitchell way, but, this is long, complex novel with a strong, equally complex and fascinating main character. If you are not familiar with Mitchell’s narrative, I can sum up the form he uses by saying that he creates a supposedly linear narrative from the past to the future, where characters and events are highly connected. In the first chapter, we meet Holly Sykes, a teenager who has run away from home to live with his boyfriend only to find him sleeping with her best friend once she arrives. At a loss, she does not know what to do, but she is sure she will not be returning home, so she runs further away from home. However, she is soon found by a classmate who has been helping her in the last few days and who also informs her of her brother’s disappearance. This is the starting point of the novel and the following chapters will link events through time and space in a very postmodern way.

Among many other themes, the book camouflaged moral issues behind a war between two secret societies of immortal people, the Horologist and the Anchorites. I am not a fan of this kind of plots, but I am a huge fan or morality issues, so I was very pleased to see myself enjoying the philosophical problems posted by Mitchell. How and when is self-sacrifice necessary? How can we fight evil? But, at the end of the novel, I found myself perplexed and in the very same predicament that I found myself two years ago after reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Even though the good wins, Holly lives her last years in an apocalyptic world where her two grandchildren are saved because of her own connections to Horology. So, even though the good ones win, the world is on the verge of being destroyed. The narrative, then, begs the question: what if the Anchorites had won? This would be a simple what if question where it not for one detail I have not mentioned yet: the Anchorites live on souls, which basically means they kill people. Maybe they were killing the people who would eventually destroy planet Earth? Is killing always bad? This is where Mitchell’s magic comes to play. There is not an answer, and the reader is left with their own thoughts and conclusions.

So, yes, I think The Bone Clocks is a great novel that exceeded my expectations and has changed my relationship to David Mitchell’s work. The only thing that I did not enjoy much is Mitchell’s repetition of form and structure. I know that postmodern hyper-connectivity is his forte, but I got a little bit tired of it eventually. And the best part? Connections are so complex and they run for so long that I had to mark the book. Yes! I tried to overcome my fear of highlighting books by not highlighting them, but using colourful book darts:


 I am really very interested in knowing what you thought of The Bone Clocks and what you make of that apocalyptic ending. Please share your thoughts, theories and ideas in the comments section!



  • crimeworm

    The connections must be insanely complex for you to have to do all that! I’ve had Cloud Atlas for years, but it’s never been the “right” time to read it…I don’t know about other people’s opinions, but I think postmodernism can end up being too clever for it’s own good, and the book is sacrificed as a result. But this “postmodern hyper-connectivity” (I never knew it had a name, which demonstrates my stunted education!) isn’t TOO contrived for me. If I’d have read the blurb I probably would have thought it had a crime element too. It is a gorgeous book isn’t it though?

    • Elena

      I’m a huge fan of postmodernism, and don’t say that about yourself, because my reviews and my approach to literature are very influeced by postmodernism. But, yes, it’s complex because it takes on previous philosophical movements… Anyway, it’s a commercial book, I think Kate Atkinson’s works are far way more complex in a postmodern way. Have you read her?

  • thenovelprojectchronicles

    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one who had a ‘difficult’ relationship with Cloud Atlas. Funny thing is, I love sci-fi and respected the complexity of his work, but I just didn’t enjoy the book. Also, I felt a bit churlish saying I didn’t like it because so many people loved it, but I didn’t. So it put me off reading the Bone Clocks.

    On the basis of your review though, I might give him a second chance. 🙂

    • Elena

      Oh I’m so happy to read this! I think you can give Mitchell a second chance, but if it was the structure of the book what put you off, then The Bone Clocks is a copy of Cloud Atlas…

  • JacquiWine

    I’m very glad this novel worked for you especially given your experience with Cloud Atlas, but I’m beginning to wonder if I might fall into another camp with The Bone Clocks. I loved Cloud Atlas, and the connections between different strands drew me into the novel as a whole. I haven’t looked at The Bone Clocks yet (as I prefer to wait for paperbacks), but a couple of friends, also lovers of Atlas, haven’t clicked with the new one. So, I may end up having the opposite experience to you…

  • Leah

    I’m glad this book worked for you so much better than Cloud Atlas! I thought it was brilliant; I love all of the connections and the way Mitchell always keeps you guessing.

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