Review of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell


Anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I’m a huge fan of Mitchell – Cloud Atlas is one of my alltime favourite books. So would I enjoy this offering?

theboneclocksRun away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, drawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. My personal favourites are the first one – ‘A Hot Spell’, ‘The Wedding Bash’ and the chilling final ‘Sheep’s Head’.

However, it is a masterpiece of storytelling and the themes are around the notion of good and evil and what makes someone a survivor. As well what the cost of survival may be. If you enjoyed Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – see my review here – you may have a clue about the narrative, but as Mitchell slowly reveals the heart of the story in careful stages, only revealing the whole enormity of the plot by the end of the fifth section, I’m not going to venture into Spoiler territory.

While you won’t find Mitchell on the shelves marked Sci F and Fantasy – he is regarded as a Literary writer – there is a fantasy/science fiction mash-up at the heart of this story. He is always worth reading and the fact that in this book, he ventures yet again into one of my favourite genres is a major bonus. And if you like your fantasy with a quality label on it, then give this a go. No one writes his particular brand of fiction better…

11 responses »

  1. Although I was annoyed with that 5th section with the corny fantasy stuff, I enjoyed this book a lot. It pulled me in like no other book and Mitchell’s work with character is so real and intimate. It was one of the most memorable reading experiences I had last year.

  2. Great review, Sarah! I got this book for my birthday earlier this year (along with Cloud Atlas). I don’t know when I’ll get around to either, but knowing that you enjoyed it will bump them up higher on my priority list. 😉

    Btw, the cover on the UK version is beautiful! And so different from the U.S. version.

    • Oh you’re in for a real treat! My tip would be to read ‘The Bone Clocks’ first as it’s the less demanding read. And I agree about the cover – I was a bit gobsmacked when I saw what dreary affair the US version was… I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on with Mitchell:).

  3. I loved his “Ghostwritten” (The tea house story is still within my memories, and I consider it the best one, but others are great too), but then bounced off Dream_no_9 for some reason, and never got around to go back to him. I probably should.

  4. And just because I think it’s beautiful, Polish version of the cover:

    (The whole “Uczta Wyobraźni” – “The Feast of Imagination” series by the Polish publisher Mag have beautiful and unique covers.)

  5. Oh wow! That is really lovely… Thank for adding it to the post, Joanne:). I am gutted to have missed him – he was appearing last night at Shoreham but I was too ill to go. It would have been a GREAT evening as he is such a nice man…

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