Book six of the DavidMitchellathon with the wonderful Nat K.
With everything going on in this novel it’s easy to miss that this extraordinary book covers just about the entire life of its protagonist, Holly Sykes. How she is connected and integral to just about everything that happens in the world around her. The different eras of her life are told in six parts.
I truly don’t know how Mitchell does it.
Every lifeform on this planet has an expiry date. Everything living, is dying at the same time. We are all “Bone Clocks”. All of our clocks will eventually stop we just don’t know when. Many of us believe that we have a soul, a soul that when we die passes on to the next level, realm, state of existence, call it what you will. Some of us believe that our soul is reincarnated into another body, but without retaining the memories and experiences created and formed from the previous “life”.
With this novel, Mitchell introduces another option. Lifeforms known as "atemporals". Atemporals have always lived amongst us, and when I say “lived” I mean lived. Atemporals are immortal. What is even more interesting is that there are two types of atemporals. Flip sides of the coin, good and evil, light and dark. Horologists’ souls are reincarnated into another body upon “death”, but they retain all of their memories and wisdom. Anchorites, achieve their immortality by “stealing” the life of an innocent. The innocent must have high levels of psychic ability. In the background of our lives these two factions have been fighting an interminable war for generations.
However, the war is almost at an end, and the good guys, the Horologist’s have lost. They are scattered and on the run after an attack on the Anchorites leaders goes horribly wrong. Without spoiling anything, the leading, most powerful Horologist hides deep within Holly’s memories to heal, recover and hopefully return.
Just like his other novels, Mitchell jumps from genre to genre, all the while maintaining his theme where everything is connected. It turns out that many of these characters have previously made appearances in his earlier novels, some cameos, some more important, such as Marinus. What a character, who readers will immediately recognise from “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet”.
Mitchell also does an amazing juggling act to pull this novel off. It could have so easily gone terribly wrong, but it works, and it works brilliantly. This war, the battle between the immortals, is raging on throughout Holly’s life. This battle is in direct contrast to Holly’s normal everyday life. Holly is drawn into this meta-fantasy world when one of the leaders of the Anchorites, chooses her to be a vessel. Holly has high psychic abilities and is a perfect candidate.
So somehow Mitchell merges these two narratives together and he does it with his normal flair and style. What is rewarding, and I believe the strength of the novel, is that the immortals take a back seat to Holly’s story. Paired down to its simplest form this is a novel all about a wonderful woman and how she lives her life and survives.
On many occasions, especially the sixth dystopian future part, Mitchell proves to be somewhat prescient with the future he has painted. Some things feel almost on the verge of happening in our world now. A thinly veiled warning perhaps.
Another Mitchell masterpiece.
Here is a video from "Politics and Prose Bookstore" featuring Mitchell discussing and reading from THE BONE CLOCKS.