The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Random House, 2014.
620 pages, $34.00.
David Mitchell’s latest novel, The Bone Clocks, took the 2014 Man Book Prize judges on a thrill ride. The mind-tripping story blew them away and landed him a spot on the coveted prize’s longlist. I too took The Bone Clocks for a test run this summer. The reader takes a loop-the-loop ride along with the lovable heroine —Holly Sykes— over several decades.
Here’s the ever-talented Mr. Mitchell giving a one-minute lowdown on The Bone Clocks:
Now, here’s my take on this unforgettable story (I will refrain from discussing most of the paranormal bits as to not give away the plot. Mitchell tells you all you need to know, about the supernatural angle, in the video. Anything else might spoil the story for you.)
15-year-old Holly Sykes runs away from home after a dispute with her mother about her much-too-old, slacker boyfriend. Holly wants to prove to her disapproving mother that she can make it on her own. So, she heads for her boyfriend’s place, intent on spiffing up his cluttered apartment and transform it into their home. That pipedream comes to an abrupt end when she finds another girl in his bed. Too stubborn and hurt to go back home, Holly decides to leave town without a set plan. Naive, snarky Holly manages to get far enough out of town, for a week-end, with a pocketful of change. While on her own, the willful teen imagines revenge scenarios: her mother regretting slapping her face; her now ex-boyfriend getting into hot water for messing with under-aged girls. Still, the going gets tough for Holly. She starts having second thoughts, and her angst-ridden thinking plucks at your heartstrings:
“I think about pinball, and how being a kid’s like being shot up the firing lane and there’s no veering left or right: you’re just sort of propelled. But once you clear the top, like when you’re sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, suddenly there’s a thousand different paths you can take, some amazing, others not. Tiny little differences in angles and speed’ll totally alter what happens to you later, so a fraction of an inch to the right, and the ball’ll just hit a pinger and a dinger and fly down between your flippers, no messing, a waste of ten p. But a fraction to the left and it’s action in the play zone, bumpers and kickers, ramps and slingshots and fame on the high-score table. My problem is, I don’t know what I want, apart from a bit of money to buy food later on today… Like a shiny silver pinball whizzing out of the firing lane, I’ve not the faintest bloody clue where I’m going or what will happen next.”
On top of coming to terms with running away, Holly runs smack into inexplicable events. She meets an elderly telepathist who knows her name, offers her tea, and asks for “asylum.” She follows a vision of her younger brother, then momentarily travels into another world. Although she used to hear voices and experience hallucinations as a young girl, Holly hasn’t felt such strange sensations in years. These events mark a shocking incident that will forever change her life —her world.
It’s a harrowing journey for a broken-hearted, teenage girl. I have only touched the first part of the book so far; five more parts make up this epic novel. The other ones feature the point-of-view of male characters that influence Holly’s life —a handsome Cambridge student, an ambitious journalist, a once-successful novelist, and a sympathetic mystic. Their stories help us better understand Holly’s plight. I must confess: not having Holly figure more prominently in large sections of the book was frustrating. I blame Mitchell for creating such a real, engaging heroine that drawn us in at the beginning of his mysterious story. Each time I started reading a new part, I impatiently awaited Holly’s appearance in the narrator’s story. Some of these imaginative narratives —like the ones chronicling the war in Bagdad or the downfall of a writer— were entertaining, but where not essential to the plot of the larger story. I wanted a greater focus on Holly.
I now understand why David Mitchell has such a devout following. He writes with a fluidity I rarely encounter. Never was I distracted by off-putting word choices or sentence structures. His vivid imagery often echoes the notion of time as a recurring, scripted phenomena that parallels the plot. For instance, after a tumultuous, game-changing encounter with the Cambridge student in the wood, a “breeze passes, the trees shivers and a yellow leaf loop-the-loops, landing by a fluke of air current on [Holly’s] palm.” Such subtle allusions are never accidental, and they appear at the most opportune times. Other passages —loaded with paranormal activity— needed more concentration, but that’s not the writer’s fault. Wrapping my brain around supernatural concepts has never been my strong suit. How does Mitchell create out-of-this-world, sci-fi encounters within the normality of everyday happenings with such sincerity? Only a genius can pull it off. And, pulling it off deserves the Man Book longlist nomination. If you want one of Britain’s best-loved masterminds to captivate you, I suggest you grab a copy of The Bone Clocks in stores September 2, 2014. Hang on tight, reader —it’s a bloody hell of a spiraling, 620-page ride!
*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*