Lovely writing and an interesting plot that eventually collapses under the weight of too much side story.
In David Mitchell’s world everyone is connectLovely writing and an interesting plot that eventually collapses under the weight of too much side story.
In David Mitchell’s world everyone is connected, across time, across space, and of course across books. Characters reappear, their children influence the characters of other children, even characters you can’t recall reading about in any of the other books seem to be the great grandchild of someone from another story.
The Bone Clocks make these connections explicit. The heart of the story is a ages long battle between two groups of body snatchers, one who actively snatch bodies into which they move their consciousness for another lifetime and the other, who without any such messy indiscretions, are simply reborn into someone else’s body when they die. Both groups are effectively immortal, the latter by virtue of an innate ability, the former through a bit of hocus pocus and active thievery. The book places its sympathies with the camp of immortals who transfer through bodies because it is how they live (Do we fault the lion who kills to survive because it is a killing machine?) rather than with those who actively steal bodies from others (Or do we fault the hunter who kills for sport?). You, as did I, may not see their differences as black and white as the novel suggests. Their battle is played out through the bodies, the bone clocks, of ordinary mortals who are scarred for life or killed in skirmishes between the warring groups. Predestination or free will, the continuity of personality across long stretches of time – the themes of the book are pure Mitchell.
Most of the book however dwells with the bone clocks who have yet to be commandeered, or those whose lives are forever twisted by their interactions with the immortals. It is their stories and their occasional interactions with the war going on unseen and unknown beneath their merely human gaze that drives the novel. And it is there I find my first issue with the novel. Some of these secondary storylines are novellas in their own right - Crispin’s indiscretion could have easily become the entire plotline of an Iris Murdoch novel. The war photographer’s story is long, to me somewhat tedious, and only a shill for the main plotline. After a while you start to figure out whose storyline is moving the main plot along and whose is only peripheral, and I found myself bored with the latter. The book becomes a bit of a home for wayward characters in search of a novel of their own.
My second issue with the book is the writing of the battles between the warring factions of immortals. Early on when Holly experiences a skirmish in the war, the novel works. The mystery of the happenings draws you in. But later it starts to read like an overly long scene from The Matrix. And when the climactic battle finally is waged, just know that no novel ought to contain the phrase “the Blind Cathar”. It all seems a little silly and I found myself just wanting to get through it rather than enjoying it very much.
What Mitchell does so well though is to capture the essence of the times through which the story moves. It rings so true, so right, that when the story moves to the future, perhaps the same future as in Cloud Atlas, it is so well grounded that you have no disbelief to suspend. The swiftness of our civilization’s fall to climate change and a desperate shortage of oil, the shock of how quickly all that we know could end, I found completely believable. Likewise his writing of young adult characters is so good that you hear each and every character’s own unique voice, a strong point of much of his work. And if you find the novel’s ending deus ex machina as jarring as I did, at least know that it might serve to continue the thread, to provide fodder for books to come – books we may not always find in all parts to our liking, but books that we will no doubt enjoy reading. ...more