Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Hardcover, 624 pages

Published September 2014 by Random House

Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2014)

World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2015)

Specsavers National Book Award Nominee for UK Author of the Year; Audiobook of the Year (2014)

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2014)

In the last couple years I have soured on big sprawling epic novels, anything over 400 pages always seems to have a hundred pages or so that feel like padding. In the late 90's it was impossible to publish a short novel, and I normally enjoy 250-300 page novels best. Coming in at 624 pages I almost passed on the Bone Clocks, but I was interested for three reasons. 1) I loved the film of Cloud Atlas 2)It won the World Fantasy Award for best novel and 3) I am plotting geek that enjoys stories with many levels, and multiple stories weaving together.

The Bone Clocks is a sprawling book that the author admitted is more a collection of novellas, really 5 100 page novellas with a epilogue. That maybe a over simplification as it is one story just broken up into different point over views. Each novella hops around 10 years into the future starting in 1984, and ends up 2044. The first novella's POV character returns time and again through the story but only takes center stage again in the last two novellas.

Mitchell himself has called this a collection of novellas but he is being unfair to his own book, it is a novel it simply has a unconventional structure. That will lose many readers as it feels like the story that takes a few hundred pages to come together. The reality is the story is all laid out at the beginning but the Mystery and weirdness is such that you miss it. You'll find yourself looking back and realizing it was there all along.

This novel is clearly on that line between what is considered high literature and genre. Think of novels like Mary Dorian Russell's The Sparrow which was a pure Science Fiction novel but was never marketed using genre infact the publisher avoided it like it was a contagion. It was science fiction, it was also horror but it never got placed in the genre ghetto and was treated as something more artistic. I think the Great Brian Evenson is an author who writes great horror fiction author but is thought of as literature. Good for him, he is that good, but these distinctions are of course a bunch of bullshit. The authors know it too.

The Bone Clocks is part horror, part speculative fiction and fantasy. One could even argue that it is a bit of a vampire novel, to the point Mitchell has a character say "Don't say the V word" at one point. In the end genre is a distinction Mitchell clearly gives zero fucks about. Yes this is fantastic writing and it elevates itself over most genre fiction but honestly that is all it is a VERY GREAT sci-fi/fantasy/ horror novel. I think you should read.

So I went into the novel cold, not knowing anything about the plot or concept. I think if the above aspects of the novel sound interesting than stop right here. mild spoilers ahead. The main character is Holly Skyes who we meet at a teenager in 1984. Her parents are upset that she has a older boyfriend, she decides she is going to runaway from home with him only to find out he is sleeping with her best friend. Holly can't go home and gets a job on a farm. She isn't there long when she discovers that her little brother went missing at the same time. That is where the mystery begins. The story takes us all over the world and into Holly's elder years. It is a interesting journey.

Is it my favorite novel of the year? Not even close, but it maybe the best I read all year. Those are two very different things.

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