Here is Nat K's wonderful review of THE BONE CLOCKS. We both loved it, awarding it 5 stars. Nat has gone on to say that it is her favourite Mitchell, sharing the title with "BLACK SWAN GREEN". I will post Nat's review of it shortly.
5 stars do not do this book justice.
"Spring adds, summer multiplies, autumn subtracts, winter divides.
Are you someone who thinks that there’s more to “this” life, than the one that you’re currently living? That this body is one that perhaps is suiting this moment, this lifetime. Do you believe that souls live on? Or that they can perhaps re-invent themselves in future bodies? This book brings those kinds of musings into a tricky story which will perhaps have some readers disbelieving what the novel is trying to say, yet which I found endlessly fascinating. I used to have so many discussions with Mum about reincarnation and old souls. So you’ve probably guessed by now from what I’ve said, that yes, there are immortals in this book. That they walk amongst us. As with Mitchell’s other books, he poses the question of the light and the shadow. Is there a difference between the two? Is one better than the other, and how do we end up at that place?
The immortals are referred to as Atemporals in this story, and are split between two sides. One being “Horologists” (who reincarnate through the ages, and gain wisdom with each new lifecycle), and “Anchorites” (who are the libertines of the Immortal world, wanting to live forever to continue their lifestyles of avarice of pleasure). Yes the two sides are destined to clash, and a spectacular battle it will be.
"What is born must one day die. So says the contract of life, yes? I am here to tell you, however, that in rare instances this iron clause may be...rewritten."
But in the interim, we have the normal, everyday life of a nuclear family with their day to day routine and battles. It’s into the world of Thatcher’s poll tax and mining strikes that the story opens.
Holly Sykes is a 15 year old runaway, and we meet her in 1984. After a massive falling out with her Mum over her good for nothing boyfriend, Holly storms out of the family home, head held indignantly high. From the opening chapter, I was hooked. I loved her feistiness. I was also the same age as Holly then, so the references to life and music had me happily humming down memory lane.
Of course, the good for nothing boyfriend was good for nothing, and Mum was right after all. They always are. But pride before a fall, and Holly, with her very receptive mind which has bothered her since being a young child with “radio people” living inside, decides to make a go of it at making a living on a strawberry farm (where else!). And it’s from this moment that the immortals in the story start to make an appearance, albeit in the guise of looking like everyday people.
This book takes you around the world, through different time zones, continents and cultures, meeting a myriad of people. With Mitchell’s talent and ease, he moves between genres, ending in a way too close for comfort dystopian world in 2043.
Divided into six sections, of which Holly is a central character in each, the story unfolds seamlessly despite its intricacy. To say more is to reveal too much. It is a complex story, but it’s one which is endlessly fascinating. I can’t recommend it enough, it blew me away completely.
This book is neck and neck with Black Swan Green as my favourite David Mitchell novel. And the reason that I can’t pick between the two, is that they are polar opposites in tone, even though they are both set (at least at the start of the novel) in the early 1980s. If I had to abandon ship and land on a desert island, the lifeboat would simply have to have room for both of these books.
It was good to see characters pop up from my other Mitchell favourite Black Swan Green as he continues to build on his multi-layered Mitchellverse. Some playing cameo roles, with one in particular - Hugo Lamb - playing a major role in this story. I commented to Neale (who I’m reading these books with), when reading BSG that he - Hugo - would be destined for big things. Whether they would be spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, I couldn’t say. But it would be impressive. Now I know. His destiny was wanting to remain an eternal, youthful Rob Lowe, but at what cost? As he muses "So. This is a real, live Faustian pact I'm being offered."
This is another of Mitchell’s books which can be read as a “stand-alone”, but I’d really recommend reading his works chronologically, as they truly are building blocks for each other. I feel you’d get so much more from this story, having the other books behind you, giving it context.
Plus it's fun being a Mitchell uber geek, spotting the cheeky little nod he gives to other novels, that are sometimes easy to miss. Such as a fairly minor character hailing from the Chatham Islands, where a sizeable portion of Cloud Atlas is set. And Dwight Silverwind making a re-appearance...as a psychic on Brighton pier. Ed Brubeck writing as a war correspondent for Luisa Rey's Spyglass magazine. And let's not forget "The Voorman Problem." It must be such fun sprinkling these breadcrumbs across the books.
I can’t help but think how prescient Mitchell’s writing is. A literary Nostradamus. I know that George Orwell is heralded as all seeing with this classic 1984, which truly is amazing. But the events that Mitchell talks about, have me looking over my shoulder. How could he even have an inkling of how the world may unfold? It’s like he is writing a book to show us how Western Civilisation is effectively going to create its own downfall, and here’s the handbook.
He speaks of Ratflu (nearly got it!), metalife, the dark net, the war in Iraq, the rise of China, the EU dissolving, privacy is dead, mass extinctions of animal and plant life, the world using up its oil resources, society returning to a pre-technology lifestyle. A return to the land. A survival of the fittest. As all other options have been used up.
Though this may sound like a grim sci-fi/fantasy novel (which it is in parts), Mitchell’s humour is there. And not talked about nearly enough. "There's no Johnny Rotten without the Bee Gees."
The chapter showing the Hooray Henry’s and Henrietta’s partying and generally misbehaving in one chapter is superb. Lots of fun. The unfolding scenario in the crush of a uni bar just before Christmas play is very funny and very clever.
And of course, such beautiful writing:
"Ripe apricots taste exactly of their colour." "I watched the stars and thought of other lives." "Her only friends on the estate were books, and books can talk but do not listen." "The impossible is negotiable. What is possible is malleable." "We hear seagulls. The net curtain sways." "Art feasts upon its maker..." "Fateful or fated?" "The room is lit by the light of a golden apple."
It’s been nearly a week since I read this, and it’s still spinning around in my mind. The ending caught me completely unawares, and I was shocked to find I was in floods of tears. It impacted me so much. Holly Sykes is a wonderful character, and we see her life change as she ages in “real” time. She truly had a hard time of it, but makes the most of it too. She has my utmost admiration. She is stubborn. She is strong. She is every woman who has to cope with life's speedbumps. An absolute survivor. She got me in the guts.
"Here's the truth: who is spared love is spared grief."
In case you’re wondering about the meaning of the title The Bone Clocks, that is you and I, my friend. Us mere mortals, whose clock began winding down from birth, to finally stop at some point, we know not when. Time is finite. Read wisely. Read Mitchell.