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2015 Book Discussions > The Bone Clocks - General Discussion, No Spoilers (February 2015)

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message 1: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2157 comments Mod
This folder is for general discussion of The Bone Clocks. Interviews, reviews, links, discussion of David Mitchell etc. Please no spoilers here.


message 2: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments David Mitchell talks about The Bone Clocks but gives away a few of its plot lines so you might want to wait before listening! http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/show...


message 3: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments One thing that interests me is the polarisation of opinion Mitchell provokes. He's like our (the British) version of Franzen - people seem to love or loathe, either he's a genius or a kind of shady card sharp. Anyone have any theories as to why he provokes such extremes of opinion?


message 4: by Lacewing (last edited Jan 31, 2015 09:35AM) (new)

Lacewing http://www.csulb.edu/~bhfinney/mitche... in which Brian Finney discusses, especially, Mitchell's linguistic aptitude and use of global settings.

In another essay, this lit scholar discusses The Bone Clocks in more detail, but it does have spoilers.

Here's a pre-release Goodreads interview with the author.
https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/...


message 5: by Lacewing (last edited Jan 31, 2015 10:00AM) (new)

Lacewing Violet, Mitchell has discussed (somewhere online) being Buddhist. He spent several years in Japan, so presumably it's some variety of Zen. (Whether that means for him a secular or soto or rinzai orientation, I don't know.)

Reading between the lines of some antagonistic reviews, I sense -- fairly or not -- some "religious" or at least metaphysical resistances here and there. Since I take religious material as a source of symbols, etc., I read these aspects of his work in just that way, as vital and fully legitimate story material; for me, it's not a conflict whatever religious affiliation an author evinces.

Plus, secular Zen is kind of my thing anyway.


message 6: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments That's interesting. It's true he's often denigrated as a philosophical charlatan. I often read put downs of Cloud Atlas on the basis that he was employing some thin or spurious theme of reincarnation to weld together six otherwise disparate novellas.
I think he invites antagonism because he is a bit of a show off. The six voices and six genres enmeshed in Cloud Atlas was a dazzling feat of audaciousness - to my mind anyway - and it seemed to irk people. Also if you write six different genres into one novel you're open to criticism from six different sets of readers. Sci-fi buffs maybe found Sonmi left something to be desired; crime thriller afficianados maybe didn't warm to Luisa Rey. Especially because there was a willed undertone of genre pastiche in all the stories.
Huge thanks for the links by the way, Lacewing.


message 7: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2353 comments I read a couple of interviews with David Mitchell about this book. I thought this one was interesting, although it does not address Violet's question --
http://www.powells.com/blog/interview....


message 8: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Thanks Linda. I like the quote that the Bone Clocks is perhaps his most accomplished yet. That's definitely something we can discuss - at least those of us who have read his last few novels.


message 9: by Caroline (new)

Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Looking forward to starting this one, though I just started All the Light We Cannot See a couple days ago so it might be a bit before I join in the discussion. I really loved Cloud Atlas and mostly enjoyed Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, though found that one to be a bit harder to get through. I saw the Cloud Atlas movie before reading the book, which I found really beautiful to watch but not so great as a movie, so wasn't sure what to expect going into the book. I wound up loving the structure of the book much more (thought the movie messed with the structure far too much) and was surprised by how much I liked it, given how much I hadn't liked the movie. Maybe my dislike of the movie and initial skepticism of the book was one of the reasons why I liked the book as much as I did.


message 10: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2157 comments Mod
Violet wrote: "One thing that interests me is the polarisation of opinion Mitchell provokes. He's like our (the British) version of Franzen - people seem to love or loathe, either he's a genius or a kind of shady..."

There are a few things that I think contribute to negative feelings about Mitchell. One is simply that he has genre elements in his books. There are still a lot of people who believe that fantasy or science fiction has no place in 'serious' literature. And, on the flip side, many people who read almost exclusively genre don't like that he doesn't follow the standard tropes of those genres. And, as Violet mentioned, a few that probably don't like that he was doing an intentional pastiche of those genres, maybe considering it a rip-off instead of an homage.

When there's a lot of popular buzz surrounding a book like Cloud Atlas, as well as a movie, that makes it more likely to be read by people who may not have otherwise selected it. By no means a bad thing, but it does mean there will probably be a wider range of responses when you go further outside those predisposed to liking his writing.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for the interview links .. so interesting.


message 12: by Sandra (new)

Sandra | 114 comments Started this yesterday. I have to admit, I wasn't a big fan of Cloud Atlas... Thought it was overrated. I wouldn't normally have picked this to read but I saw it at the library and knew this was February's chosen book here so I thought I'd give it a chance.


message 13: by Martin (new)

Martin Sowery | 18 comments I think Violet is really on to something with the parallel between Mitchell and Franzen and I love the shady card sharp image. Speaking as a non-believer, I don't think many readers have a problem with spirituality being in the mix - else we'd be excluded from most fiction of the last few hundred years. Speaking as a writer, I am frankly envious of the success these two enjoy for no reason that I can discern (terrible admission) but also as a reader I feel cheated by the high expectation stirred by critical reception as against the actual works. Both write very gracefully and there's no pleasure to be had from disliking a book - so you want to enjoy. Both seem afflicted by laziness: neither can be bothered to invest time in development (Mitchell can't even be bothered to write a novel) and read like they get bored before the end. they can't be bothered to understand subjects they touch upon [not necessarily a handicap - it's sure that Dostoevsky for example didn't have a firm grasp on the ideas his fiction successfully illustrates and his reader is likely to draw different conclusions to the author from their outcomes]. Franzen and Mitchell are both brilliant, in the sense they shine brightly and don't offer much substance under the lustre. My personal experience - they need to be read in a certain frame of mind to be enjoyed and best not reread. I don't think loathing is the right reaction to the adolescence of it all - they are writers who have got great style and one just wishes they would grow up and find something to say. In any case I am attempting Bone Clocks and fascinated to know what the group will ultimately make of it.


message 14: by Pip (last edited Feb 05, 2015 04:51PM) (new)

Pip | 102 comments I've only just got hold of a copy today and hope to be able to join in soon. Very exciting! I enjoyed Cloud Atlas and loved The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet so I'm expecting good things :-)


message 15: by Ian (last edited Feb 06, 2015 12:03AM) (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye No Spoilers:

Could I raise an issue prompted by Lacewing's review of the book, which mentions James Wood's review.

After I read his review, I read parts of his book, "The Broken Estate", in order to comment briefly on his review of "TBC":

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

My concern is that many readers, including Wood, are/were reluctant to suspend disbelief.

It was interesting in writing that review to discover that the concept is attributed to Coleridge, who used it to describe a joint project with Wordsworth (especially given Mitchell's allusion to Wordsworth's Lucy poems).


message 16: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Violet wrote: "One thing that interests me is the polarisation of opinion Mitchell provokes. He's like our (the British) version of Franzen - people seem to love or loathe, either he's a genius or a kind of shady sharp. Anyone have any theories as to why he provokes such extremes of opinion?"

This fascinates me as well. My theory is that readers who take post-modernism very, very, very seriously think he is too white bread, too charming, too nice. A real (American) post-modernist has to be (sid) vicious, frustrated, charmless, perhaps an academic who eviscerates the fiction of anybody in their peer group or the previous generation who doesn't subscribe to their view of the world (i.e., anybody in the way of promotion through the academic hierarchy or elevation to the truly deserving post-modern canon).

You can put Mitchell in a room full of librarians and he will have them eating out of his hand. You can put his books in a bookstore, and they will sell. This is anathema to post-modernism! Publishers might start expecting us to start writing books that people want to read!

On the other hand, real genre readers probably think he plays with their genre, that he is a dilettante, that he doesn't respect the discipline required to do genre properly.

Overall, his problem is that he is a polite rebel, he breaks the rules too deferentially.

Can we please invite him to dinner, soon!


message 17: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments I love reading James Wood on the novel. For me he’s up there with Virginia Woolf as a critic who genuinely enriches the experience of reading the novel. Even though he often denigrates authors I love. Don Delillo for example. Underworld for Wood was gratuitously obsessed with paranoia as if this was a concern peculiar to only Delillo. But one could say paranoia was a state of mind invented by America. Did it even exist in the 19th century? The Cold War saw the invention of paranoia as a mass media tool for manipulating public opinion. Delillo’s fascination with it was not only entirely legitimate but incredibly eye-opening in tracing the changing psyche of post 1950 America. I don’t have Wood’s book with me here but to my recollection he wrote brilliantly about Underworld without getting it. I’m not going to read Wood’s review of The Bone Clocks until I finish the novel but I’m looking forward to it.


message 18: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments As a Mitchell detractor I’m looking forward to what you make of The Bone Clocks, Martin. Has to be said for someone who has “no substance” Mitchell has provided us with a lot of very intelligent discussion on the nature of life and on the nature of the novel itself. I understand there will always be writers who irritate us on a subjective level but I think it’s important to grasp the distinction between the objective and the subjective. Often here the most liked reviews of successful novels are the one star reviews. To take one example, Wolf Hall. Hugely successful and won the Booker prize and yet, looking at the Goodreads reviews, a lot of people think it’s tripe. But it isn’t tripe, or even close to being tripe. We can state that as a more or less objective fact, just as I can say it’s cold today. Sure someone might disagree with me and say it’s colder in Alaska but it doesn’t change the objective fact that it’s cold here today.


message 19: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Pip wrote: "I've only just got hold of a copy today and hope to be able to join in soon. Very exciting! I enjoyed Cloud Atlas and loved The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet"
Looking forward to your take on it, Pip.


message 20: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2717 comments Mod
I was completely unaware of the polarization Mitchell causes among some critics/readers. Up until now, I've actually never read anything about him and only read his books. My reaction upon reading Franzen's The Corrections was one of feeling like I was watching somebody wicked smart show off... almost trying too hard to be witty and aloof. Whereas, I feel like Mitchell is genuinely having fun and inviting me to join him. Given some of the other threads in this discussion, I'm thinking my reaction is based on Mitchell's characters, how he develops and cares about them in a way that invests me as a reader in their lives. I believe he actually does an enormous amount of research for his books, so if he's coming off to some readers as disinterested or ill-informed, that's gotta be the writing. The way he structures most of his books always has me questioning whether the sum is worth more than the parts.


message 21: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Great point, Marc. the sheer pleasure Mitchell seems to take in his writing is infectious. And you can't fault his research. The thousand Autumns has to be one of the most thoroughly and brilliantly researched novels ever written. And it's true that, even with that book, maybe, just maybe, the sum isn't quite worth more than the parts. Of course he introduced fantasy into that novel too, though in a less obtrusive fashion and there remained the question of whether or not it was entirely successful. But i think you have to accept Mitchell is religiously and indefatigably playful as a novelist and if you object to being played with you're probably not going to like him.


message 22: by Gerry (new)

Gerry Pirani (gerrypiraniauthor) | 7 comments I enjoyed Cloud Atlas quite a bit, too. I wasn't sure if I would after hearing some groaning from the sidelines (book clubs and such). That being the case, prediction is I would like The Bone Clocks?


message 23: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Gerry wrote: "I enjoyed Cloud Atlas quite a bit, too. I wasn't sure if I would after hearing some groaning from the sidelines (book clubs and such). That being the case, prediction is I would like The Bone Clocks?"
I think so, Gerry. The two novels have a lot in common but at the same time are both sufficiently unique not to fatally overlap and blur into each other.


message 24: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Caroline wrote: "Looking forward to starting this one, though I just started All the Light We Cannot See a couple days ago so it might be a bit before I join in the discussion."
I'm really looking forward to All the light, Caroline and still a bit miffed I arrived here too late to take part in the discussion. Look forward to hearing what you make of The Bone Clocks.


message 25: by Marc (last edited Feb 06, 2015 04:49AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2717 comments Mod
"Indefatigably playful"--a wonderful description, Violet!

Gerry, I think Cloud Atlas would have been my favorite Mitchell book (it was also my first), but I could not stand the dialect in the futuristic sections. I adored the other sections of that book--enough so that it made me want to read all of his books (still haven't read Ghostwritten and Black Swan Green).

Then there're the characters who crossover between/among his novels (from Wikipedia):
The Bone Clocks contains characters from other works by Mitchell, following precedents set in his earlier novels. In interviews leading up to the release of this novel, Mitchell described this shared universe as an "uber-novel". [4]

-Hugo Lamb, one of the novel's narrators, appears as a boy in Black Swan Green, in which he is the protagonist Jason Taylor's cousin. The character Alan Wall also appears in Black Swan Green.

-There are mentions of Spyglass Magazine and the writer Felix Finch, both featured in Cloud Atlas.

-Crispin Hershey, another of the novel's narrators, is ostensibly the author of The Voorman Problem, an excerpt from number9dream, as well as the writer of a work whose plot seems identical to The Siphoners, a short story written by David Mitchell, which in turns seems to be the same pre-apocalyptic universe described in the last section of the book.

-The soul of Dr. Marinus from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is revealed to be capable of reincarnation, and is another of the novel's narrators, mostly as Dr. Iris Fenby. This particular incarnation of Marinus actually appeared in David Mitchell's libretto for Michel Van der Aa's opera Sunken Garden, which David Mitchell said served as a "prologue" to the Bone Clocks.

-Jonny Penhaligon is implied to be a descendant of Captain Penhaligon of the British frigate Phoebus in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

-Elijah D'Arnoq, another "Atemporal" like Dr. Marinus, is implied to be the same character as Mr. D'Arnoq of the Chatham Islands in the first segment of Cloud Atlas, though the Afterword which appears in the paperback version reveals that Elijah is Mr. D'Arnoq's son.

-Mo Muntervary, a physicist who first appeared in Ghostwritten, is a secondary character in the last of this novel's sections.


I honestly would not have noticed these, but then my memory is like a sieve sometimes...


message 26: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Ian, Mitchell is taken fairly seriously by the Science Fiction and Fantasy press, see Tor.com for an example, and new David Mitchell books always get reviewed in Locus, generally quite favorably.

I suspect one of the problem many critics have with Mitchell is they find his writing too accessible. It makes them suspect it must, somehow, be (gasp!) middlebrow.


message 27: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Peter wrote: "Ian, Mitchell is taken fairly seriously by the Science Fiction and Fantasy press, see Tor.com for an example, and new David Mitchell books always get reviewed in Locus, generally quite favorably. ..."

Thanks, Peter. I was probably reacting to the types of review I had read on GR. I wasn't familiar with either of those magazines. The reviews were very astute. I agree with your comment about middlebrow, too. The desire to communicate with an audience, i.e., to be accessible, is often scorned as beneath the seriousness of post-modernism, as if we are only truly intelligent and gifted when we are incomprehensible!


message 28: by Mona (new)

Mona | 2 comments Marc wrote: "Gerry, I think Cloud Atlas would have been my favorite Mitchell book (it was also my first), but I could not stand the dialect in the futu..."

Good list, Marc.

And don't forget:

Madame Crommelynk, the old lady who is briefly Jason's poetry mentor in "Black Swan Green" before she disappears, turns out to have been, as a young woman, Robert Frobisher's Eva, the daughter of his composer mentor that he was in love with in "Cloud Atlas".


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Marc wrote: ""Indefatigably playful"--a wonderful description, Violet!."

Ditto!


message 30: by Ian (last edited Feb 06, 2015 01:52PM) (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Mona wrote: "Madame Crommelynk, the old lady who is briefly Jason's poetry mentor in "Black Swan Green"

None of these poetry connections had dawned on me before. Thanks everybody! (view spoiler)


message 31: by Martin (new)

Martin Sowery | 18 comments Violet wrote: "As a Mitchell detractor I’m looking forward to what you make of The Bone Clocks, Martin. Has to be said for someone who has “no substance” Mitchell has provided us with a lot of very intelligent di..."

I don't know whether I qualify as a Mitchell detractor, though i am sure they exist. After I pressed "post" on the last I realized I should have added that one of the reasons I felt so cheated by Cloud Atlas was because I had enjoyed Ghostwritten so much. I think Marc's post about the difference between the reader's experience of Franzen and Mitchell is spot on. Without name-calling anyone in particular, I believe there is a dispirited-ness that sinks in when you have the feeling that a talented writer is producing what feels like a wannabee movie script - i.e. the author quickly and skilfully sketches a type that we can recognize easily through cultural referencing rather than working through a "real" person and then gets on with the business of showing off his (usually his) writing. I don't give a tinker's cuss over what's post-modern or what's middlebrow, but I enjoy novels that do what novels can do best in whatever way they operate. Have to try to catch up now


message 32: by Ian (last edited Feb 07, 2015 12:19PM) (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye I had to read both Cloud Atlas and The Corrections twice to really appreciate them. I originally rated them both ***. I increased CA to ***** and TC to ****. Bits of TC that had really annoyed me (the excursion to Europe) didn't worry me as much second time around.

I've heard Franzen speak. While there is a certain charm, he exhausted my interest in bird-watching, even though I had been keen on it in my teens.

I read both CA and TBC within a film and TV framework. They're almost like anticipatory novelisations of the film/TV series.


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