[I received a copy of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada (thank you so much, Lindsey!). This does not affect my opinion of the novel in any way.]
David Mitchell’s works are internationally known and have received praise from beloved fans and critics alike (his most well-known work being Cloud Atlas). After reading his newest Man Booker Prize longlisted book The Bone Clocks (my first Mitchell novel), I now understand why and am fully on board. Let me start by saying this: there are some novels that are the most magical the first read-through; with these novels, you work your way through all the suspense before feeling the catharsis after a big reveal or twist. On the other hand, there are certain novels that drop subtle hints of information throughout the story that require reassembling on the reader’s part in order to get the big picture in the end – these books beg to be reread. The Bone Clocks belongs to the latter category.
In The Bone Clocks, we meet our main protagonist Holly Sykes in 1984 when she is 15 years old. On the surface, she is a regular teenager: infatuated with her older boyfriend, has problems at school, doesn’t get along with her mom… But, as Holly narrates to us, we get a sense that there is something “magical”, mysterious, and other-worldly about her and the world she lives in. You see, when she was younger, Holly would hear voices inside her head that she called “Radio People.” She also had a special friend named Miss Constantin who would comfort her at night. Until, that is, something terrible happened to one of Holly’s classmates and Holly prayed for Miss Constantin to go away. Are these voices and people real? Or does Holly simply have an overactive imagination? Was the incidence with Holly’s classmate a coincidence or something else? Why are these voices there and will Holly start hearing them in her head again? In an attempt to not spoil anything I’ll leave these questions unanswered but keep reading to see why I’m now officially on the David Mitchell bandwagon.
One interesting thing about The Bone Clocks is that each part is narrated by a different person. These characters, who are all relevant to Holly Sykes, are all playing a part in an underground War, whether they’re aware of this or not. By the latter half of the book we start to understand what this War is and what it means, but not before we read a couple hundred pages while in the dark. Right from the get-go you realize that something is not quite “right,” but this really isn’t explained until later in the book. That being said, in my experience, not knowing exactly what was happening didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel at all, because even though there is a lot of “behind the scenes” action, there is also a lot to see and experience in the part of the novel that feels normal to our “real world.” Simply put, The Bone Clocks is rich. There is a lot going on at any point in time but this never feels too overwhelming for the reader (especially if you take notes as you read like me). Plus, the best and most gratifying part about reading a book like this is piecing together all the information you gathered previously and finally seeing its relevance to the bigger picture. This is also why I think The Bone Clocks is such a wonderfully “rereadable” novel.
Aside from being a masterfully-crafted piece of fiction, The Bone Clocks touches on a lot of topics that are worth thinking about, from family, to mortality, and even war. I could probably write an essay on each of these topics and how they are presented in The Bone Clocks, but this review would be way too long if I go too in-depth with it so I’ll end my review with this: whether you’re looking to escape into a world that is both like and unlike ours or feel like analyzing a 600+ page novel on the complexities of being a living and breathing human, The Bone Clocks very likely has something for you. Though, as an addendum, this wouldn’t be a fully honest review if I didn’t point out one small bone that I have to pick with the novel, and that is the very last part. After the book’s climactic scene we are given one last part to tie everything up but, for me, it did feel quite anti-climactic and a lot less interesting than the previous part. I felt a bit impatient with it because I thought the book should have been wrapped up already. However, this is only a small, small part that didn’t work for me and considering that this is a 600+ page novel, I think that’s a pretty spectacular feat.
Verdict: A long novel that does require time and dedication in order to fully appreciate everything. David Mitchell creates a rich world within our world that is constantly intriguing and mysterious. This book is definitely one that I look forward to rereading with more knowledgeable eyes, now that I understand the significance of the events that occur. This would be a wonderful book club pick or a read-along book. I can’t wait to talk about it to anyone who has read it!
Read if: You enjoy magical realism, don’t mind having to invest time in order to receive (an arguably large) payoff, love or are intrigued by David Mitchell and want to see what he’s all about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read Mitchell’s backlist. (Where should I start?!)
Have you read anything by David Mitchell? Will you be reading The Bone Clocks? If you’ve finished it, what did you think?!?!