THE BONE CLOCKS

puppy love

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The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell

I love David Mitchell. I have read most (though not all) of his books with much delight and I was very excited that The Bone Clocks was being released this fall. From what I’d heard, it promised a mix of a solid realist surface story along with shifting narrators, time periods and political backdrops plus a certain amount of fantasy. The kind of thing I wouldn’t have thought I’d like until I read Cloud Atlas (or watched LOST).

And so Supportive Husband and I trundled off to our local indie (shout out to Pegasus Books in Berkeley) where we happily procured a signed first edition, baby. And even though it kinda hurt my hand to prop up the 650-page hardback tome, I plunged in with a glee that lasted through the first half of the book. How can you not be happy when a 15-year-old female protagonist describes a boyfriend’s betrayal by stating, “My heart’s a clubbed baby seal” or when an older man going blind explains his experience as “like searching for your keys in the dirty snow.” My point is that David Mitchell can turn a phrase. And that kind of lovely writing can take a reader pretty far.

But, but, but … and I hate to have a but because I was so excited about this book … a little more than midway through this story that spans from 1984 English countryside to 2043 Irish countryside–with a lot of stops in-between–the book’s earlier, lighter flirtations with fantasy became the central plot of the story. It was at this point that my adoration started to fade. Once it crossed that (here it comes) sci-fi threshold, I found myself in a place I really didn’t want to be: an alternative universe so complex and full of lame jargon that it was all I could do to follow the silly plot devices leading up to an epic battle (described blow by blow, lord help me) in which, guess what, good guys fight bad guys. The characters and storylines preceding all this fell completely by the wayside.

It was at this most vulnerable point, when my own heart was a clubbed baby seal, that James Wood, the smooth-talking New Yorker book critic, came along and articulated my disappointment. Typically, I wouldn’t have looked at the review until I had finished the book and written about it, but I was weak, okay? Questioning my own judgment, wondering what David and I had ever had, I turned to another man.

Here’s the link to Wood’s review, where he sums it up pretty well when he says, “What occurs in the novel between people has meaning only in relation to what occurs in the novel between Anchorites [the bad guys] and Horologists [the good guys].” Exactly. And this is coming from the gal who went on and on in her last post about how much she loves plot.

For what it’s worth, Mitchell does manage to bring us back, a bit, to a more human component of the story, though his final message is a pretty dark one. For hard-core Mitchell fans, there’s still plenty here to treasure. And despite my disenchantment this time around, I’ll still come running next time he calls.

Read 9 comments

  1. I zoned out three-quarters the way through with all that back story of the Horologists. Good enough read, though. I read Wood’s review too. Didn’t he say also he didn’t find much meaning in the core of the story? That it just went round and round like life? I didn’t find the book up to all the buzz.

    • Tina

      Yeah, I think the hype machine can be a great way to learn about new books, but it can also be a bit of a set-up for both parties. Another issue here is that it seems like the more established writers aren’t edited as thoroughly as they could be.

  2. I love sci-fi, even the kind of lame kind (my version of the “trashy novel” I guess). So oddly, this review kind of makes me want to read it. Though I feel like good sci-fi might have hooked you even if you didn’t think you’d like it.

  3. I like fantasy and sci-fi (we call it SF tho or speculative fiction). I will be reading this book and hope to enjoy it. That said, if the novel is so genre-plot focused so that it loses its moorings and the characters become little more than stand-ins for the author’s complicated explanation of how his SF universe works, rather than using the genre to explore a deeper human truth, well then it’s schlock and mere artifice. Ho-hum. I do enjoy pretty bad novels though, so I might not notice all the problems…

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