David Mitchell once again takes the readers on a weird, wonderful journey with The Bone Clocks, a novel that defies being categorized. Still, what strikes me is how he can take the “pop fiction” aspect of his plot and turn into a decent prose. The fact that it lacks pretentiousness is also a great feat.
Much like Cloud Atlas, Mitchell uses the plot form of six (sometimes overly long) related narratives that span from 1984 to 2043. It begins with Holly Sykes in 1984, who at age 15 has decided that her parents (whom own a pub in Gravesend) do not understand her relationship with a 22 year-old boyfriend. After the latest fight with her mother, Holly runs away. Sadly, she realizes that while she loves Vinny, the 22 year-old only saw Holly as the latest fling. When she decides not to return home and face the humiliation of her family, Holly strikes out on her own, and as she narrates, the reader learns that Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. She tells us of her ability to hear “the radio people”, voices only she seems able to hear. And as she wanders deeper into the English country side, weird visions and bizarre coincidences bring her in contact with cabal of mystics and their sworn enemies. But her lost weekend, so to speak, comes to an end with the shocking disappearance of her little brother. And with that, the thread, this unsolved mystery will form the back bone of the narrative through the decades. We also meet Hugo Lamb, a dastardly Cambridge undergraduate, seducer, thief, and near-murderer; and Crispin Hershey, a successful English writer whom is obsessed with taking revenge on his harshest reviewer, one Richard Cheeseman. Then there is the conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq.
As I noted, with these connected and overlapping novellas, we learn that there is an invisible battle going on in the margins of our society (the Anchorites and the Horologists), one that began long before the written word and continues well into the future, one were the fabric of reality is reshaped, repurposed and redefined.
And yes, the connections and interweaving is gracefully managed, and there is some pleasure (you sense) in Mitchell’s sometimes linguistic notions to force readers to pay attention, but the book remains a bit overlong and static at times. While I don’t think many words are wasted, that all of this important to the narrative, I sometimes felt he could’ve condensed the plotting and still not lost the threaded tapestry of his story. Still, a remarkable work of meta-fiction, told with a sense of humor and a wink of the eye to those snobby literature reviewers who may see that while David Mitchell is a brilliant writer, the plot of The Bone Clocks borders on science fiction and fantasy.
As noted in Slade House, which is connected to this book, Mitchell provides his Constant Readers with a few Easter Eggs, giving all of the sense that all his books exist in the same universe.