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.
I had the pleasure of reading The Bone Clocks whilst taking part in the Trees of Reverie Readathon. One of the challenges of the readathon is to read an author you haven’t read before.
This is a whopper of a book not just in terms of size but also in its sheer ambitiousness. David Mitchell sets out to tell us the life story of Holly Sykes from the rebelliousness of her teens in Gravesend in 1984 to her mellow years as a Grandmother in Ireland in 2043. The book takes us travelling on an incredible voyage through Switzerland, Iraq, Wales, Colombia, Western Australia, China, Iceland, New England, Canada, New York City, Russia, and southwest Ireland. Not content with just that David Mitchell adds a dollop of fantasy which transports the reader to an alternative universe occupied by body hopping souls. There are six sections to the book and each section has a different narrator apart from the first and last section, which are narrated by its main character, Holly Sykes. Each section is told in the first person, and a different genre, beginning with YA chick lit in the first section to futuristic dystopia in the last.
This is a 620-page novel which comprises six novellas, which link together in a common thread, through the narrative voice of the main protagonist, Holly Sykes. Holly is and should be, the focal point of the novel. Otherwise, in my opinion, the cohesion of the novel would have been lost. The novellas work as individual stories in their own right but also add depth and perspective, and certain characters play a part in more than one section of the novel. I believe that this character hopping also applies from book to book, though unfortunately this is the first David Mitchell novel that I have read, so more to come on that in the future.
The titles of the six novellas are:
1984 “A Hot Spell”
This is narrated by Holly, a fifteen-year old teenager who runs away from home after an upsetting episode with her boyfriend.
1991 “Myrrh is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume”
This is narrated by Hugo Lamb, a weathly Cambridge student, and Holly’s love interest.
2004 “The Wedding Bash”
Told by Ed Brubeck. In this section we switch between Ed’s constant risk of death as a reporter in Iraq and the excitement of a family wedding.
2015 “Crispin Hershey’s Lonely Planet”
This is narrated by Crispin, a novelist who takes umbrage at a negative review, becomes bitter and acts wickedly.
2025 “An Horologist’s Labyrinth”
Narrated by Marinus. This section is tongue and cheek Fantasy.
2048 “Sheep’s Head”
This is told by an ageing Holly, struggling to raise her grand-daughter and an adopted grandson in a world with no future.
The penultimate section of The Bone Clocks offers fantasy readers a somewhat far-fetched battle between the benevolent forces of the Horologists, and the malevolent Anchorites. One senses that Mitchell isn’t taking the fantasy element too seriously. For instance, the full title of the Anchorites is “the Anchorites of the Chapel of the Dusk of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Order of Sidelhorn Pass.” The final chapter focusses on a disturbing dystopian world running out of oil.
This is a colourful, thoughtful novel, with many interconnecting threads and opinions being voiced throughout. There are times when the sheer weight of the story left me flabbergasted, and somewhat baffled. But all of these loose threads, and uncertainties are neatly drawn together in the final two chapters. I felt engaged with Holly throughout all the stages of her life, and the dystopian ending was very successful, poignant, and emotionally charged.
Also, I just loved the artwork on this novel, stunning cover art and each novella section is illustrated too.
“We live on, as long as there are people to live on in.”
“People are icebergs, with just a bit you can see and loads you can’t.”
“Men marry women hoping they’ll never change. Women marry men hoping they will.”
“This isn’t lust. Lust wants, does the obvious, and pads back into the forest. Love is greedier. Love wants round-the-clock care; protection; rings, vows, joint accounts; scented candles on birthdays; life insurance. Babies. Love’s a dictator.”
“Human cruelty can be infinite. Human generosity can be boundless.”
“… Modesty is Vanity’s craftier stepbrother.”
“Adverbs are cholesterol in the veins of prose. Halve your adverbs and your prose pumps twice as well.”
“Her only friends on the estate were books, and books can talk but do not listen.”
My rating: 4.5 stars!!
Have you read The Bone Clocks? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx
Yes it certainly is. A challenging read but one well worth digging into.
I started another Mitchell book because it looked awesome and avant garde, which I like. But I just started a new job so I haven’t gotten very far >_> I talked to another writer and they said that Bone Clocks wasn’t as good as Cloud Atlas, but I can’t really say since I’ve only read a bit of Cloud Atlas and nothing of Bone Clocks. In Cloud Atlas he covers a time period of like 1700s to the end of the world (set in Korea), so I guess that is a trademark of his XD Yeah, Cloud Atlas has six different sections with a different narrator as well. I think that is kind of cool. Writing style is about more than prose. It’s about everything that makes a certain author who they are.
I love this quote, “We live on, as long as there are people to live on in.” I spent years writing fanfiction, and it was about two friends (Zack and Cloud), and Zack sacrifices his life to save the other. The friend he saved goes on to save the world. He tells him to live, and gives him his dreams. I was heartbroken about Zack’s death, but I felt as though Zack lived on through Cloud. I think it is an interesting concept 🙂
If I end up enjoying Cloud Atlas, I’ll give Bone Clocks a try 😀 The only issue I have with it so far is that the prose tends to match the time period and I don’t like literature written before 1900. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I don’t like it at all, so I’m slogging through that part. I am one of those that hated Shakespeare too XD
So glad you loved this one! Mitchell is one of my favorite authors. Keep going–there are many more wonders to discover!
Yes, I think I may well read some more of David Mitchell’s writing, pretty impressed.
Thanks for your comment, yes it is difficult to say, as this is the first David Mitchell book that I have read, though I have seen several comments that propose that Cloud Atlas is the better book. Do let me know how you get on with Cloud Atlas I may well give it a go at some point. I like the sound of your Fanfic. I have a bit of an obsession with time, souls, darkness, light, life, death, these are themes that I tend to be drawn to while writing. Though at the moment I am trying to write a light-hearted children’s novel on a cultural theme, Chinese New Year, Scottish father, Chinese Mother, with a touch of fantasy. It’s a bit slow going, not progressing as much as I would like. Maybe it needs a villain or two to keep me interested! Must make it my New Year’s resolution to write more.
Many thanks for having presented David Mitchel, whom I really don’t know, and Holly Sykes. The various countries the story leads across are quite tempting for me!
My pleasure Martina. I only discovered him recently too, via my bookish daughter, she bought me The Bone Clocks for my birthday!
Thank you so much Margaret. Appreciate your kind words.
I loved “The Bone Clocks” so much that I was looking for fan-fic when I stumbled across your lovely review! Ha ha, I have bought several copies for friends over the past few weeks & even geeked out to “The Horologists Playlist” on youtube (I know right! :D) I had never read anything by him & honestly thought of David Mitchell from “Peep Show” when I was told about him. I plan to read “Cloud Atlas” this weekend; I hope it is just as thought provoking! Curious, have you read any George Saunders or Kelly Link?
Oh thank you so much for your lovely comment, do let me know your opinion on Cloud Atlas I’d like to read that too. No I haven’t read any George Saunders or Kelly Link, so you have introduced me to two new authors thank you so much. 🙂