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2015 Book Discussions > The Bone Clocks - Part I: A Hot Spell, 1984, No Spoilers (February 2015)

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message 1: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Thoughts after reading the first thirty or so pages. The voice is intimately chatty and thus most reminiscent of Black Swan Green (my least favourite of Mitchell’s novels so not a great sign!) Except this time, instead of an adolescent boy, we have an adolescent girl, Holly Sykes. Early on there’s a moment when a line is drawn in her life. Middle aged common sense stamps its censor on youthful idealism and is proved right. Holly is triggered into perhaps her first recognition of the distinction between idealism and delusion. Then there’s the radio people, very Murakami-ish so we’re back to Mitchell’s first two novels which were so clearly influenced by the Japanese writer. The Murakami quotes keep coming, first with the mysterious appearance of a wise old supernatural figure and then a potential soulmate for Holly in Ed Brubeck (named after a jazz musician: jazz, another recurring Murakami motif). It’s kind of strange (and a bit intriguing) that Mitchell is returning to quote Murakami so brazenly in this work.
My first impressions are that this doesn’t so far have the exciting dazzle of Jacob de Zoet or Cloud Atlas. Nevertheless I am intrigued…

message 2: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
By no spoilers, do you mean no spoilers past Part One?

I agree that so far there's a lack of dazzle, but still enjoying the book. Mitchell's specialty is capturing a diverse (to say the least) range of voices, and it seemed to me he largely nailed the intelligent, rebellious, self-centered teenage girl voice.

message 3: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Yep, no spoilers beyond part one.
Agree he nailed the teenage girl voice. Holly is likeable almost in spite of herself, her defensive disdainful surface self, in exactly the way rebellious teenage girls can be likeable which often involves reading between their lines.

message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I found Holly a lot more likable by the end of Part One than at the beginning. Honestly, if I hadn't read any Mitchell before and I had picked this book up in a store and idly read the first couple of pages, I would have very likely put it down again without buying it. I think there is something particularly annoying about an irritating narrator when written in first person. I guess I'm too old to sympathize with adolescent foolishness of that particular sort.

The weird stuff starts pretty early (page 15 out of 90), which I thought made a welcome contrast to Holly's teenage angst.

message 5: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments I agree, Peter. Had I not read Mitchell before and picked this up to read the first few pages I wouldn't have bought it either. For me it's a question of giving him the benefit of the doubt because his past achievements at the moment. And yes, thank heavens for the weird stuff! That's definitely what's most piqued my interest which in all honesty wouldn't have been sustained by the real life antics of Holly alone.

message 6: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments Mitchell’s storytelling is always deeply rooted in the fairy story. First comes the innocent protagonist who will be hunted and then arrive the hunters. His portraits of innocence have been varied and fascinating. Jacob in the Thousand Autumns was a brilliant complex character – a kind of model civil servant except for his illicit and character threatening determination to smuggle a forbidden holy book through Japanese customs. That was a brilliant stroke which made Jacob and his endeavours compelling from the oft. Holly’s innocence lacks the fraught tension lines of Jacob’s. Her innocence is offset by more mundane compulsions - forays into sexual experience and shoplifting. I agree with Peter that Holly and her teenage lexicon doesn’t quite make for a mouth-watering narrative voice. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was probably Mitchell’s most grown up novel. The Bone Clocks seems once again to be appealing to the inner child in its readers. It seems a lot less nuanced so far. More Harry Potter than Harold Pinter.
The text is wallpapered with 70s British political talk which all seems a bit glib and pointless to me so far.
And the weird stuff – the weird stuff is very very weird. There’s nothing I loathe more in a novel than a long-winded account of a dream. And the weird stuff here did read like a long winded account of a dream. At the same time I began to accept this isn’t a dream, that it’s the pathway into the real story.
My hope now is that this gets better and better because it needs to. The chances of this happening though are pretty good I think.

message 7: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Ben, do you think Mitchell is deliberately/playfully pasting in a backdrop of hyper realism (all the cultural and political 80s references) to offset the fantasy? Another of his games of fusing and interplaying genres…And, if so, is there a lack of his usual subtlety this time round?

Does anyone have any thoughts on his depiction of life in England in the 1980s? I was four in 1984 and don’t remember much outside of my own home and garden.

message 8: by Jane from B.C. (new)

Jane from B.C. (janethebookworm) | 63 comments I read the Bone Clock back in September and concurrently had the great pleasure of hearing Mitchell talk at a Writer's Festival event in Vancouver, BC. I believe it was the final event of his publicity tour in N. America. He is wonderfully energetic, enthusiastic and personable.

He said that deliberately set Holly as the same age as himself so he could pull upon his memories as a 15year old in 1984.

@ Ben, I agree with you that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a more sophisticated book than this one. I love that book! I found that I got mired down in the "weird stuff" of this first section of The Bone Clock, too. I absolutely got the same "Harry Potter" feeling from parts of the book.

message 9: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments Glad I'm not the only one to find myself being a bit Harry Pottered by The Bone Clocks, Jane!
And if you ask me he's stuffing in too many of his own memories of 1984. There are already more cultural references in the first 80 pages of this than in the whole 800 pages of The Goldfinch and I'm a bit baffled as to their relevance. I can live with Siouxsie & the Banshees but REO Speedwagon!? Do REO Speedwagon really have any relevance to Britain in 1984?

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

So interesting to read these impressions! I am new to this author and finding his playfulness really exciting. But I also agree that he slips into glibness on occasion. Thick with lingo and pop references. I find Holly enticing as a character partly because, to be frank, I thought she would be murder fodder within pages -- being teenage and reckless and sexual usually gets you killed in stories, doesn't it? -- but instead she keeps going in a dogged way that I find oddly appealing.

message 11: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Good point Julie about the playfulness. Mitchell’s last book was historical fiction set in a place and time that would have demanded a lot of painstaking scholarly research. With this novel he only has to use his own memories and his imagination and he does seem to be enjoying himself, as if this book is a kind of adventure playground for his talents.

@Ben. I had to google REO Speedwagon. They appear the quintessentially American 1980s band so, yeah, what are they doing in Essex?

message 12: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
Violet wrote: "@Ben. I had to google REO Speedwagon. They appear the quintessentially American 1980s band so, yeah, what are they doing in Essex? .."

They were pretty popular in the early 80's (for reasons I never comprehended, even at the time), I'm sure they made it across the ocean to some extent. Plus, as I recall the scene, Holy is using the fact that they are listening to REO Speedwagon as an indication that they ARE out of place.

message 13: by Sandra (new)

Sandra | 114 comments I'm enjoying all the British slang and 80's references. I turned 20 in 81 and though living in America alot of the music and TV was relevant on both sides of the ocean. I remember Mtv jamming REO Speedwagon down our throats and even in the US they seemed like a 70's band desperately trying to be cool enough for the 80's LOL.

message 14: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments I was fifteen in 1984, living in London and though I've just about heard of REO Speedwagon I've never heard a single one of their songs. No way would they have been on the English radio. 1984 in England was Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Culture Club,Wham, Lionel Ritchie, Prince, U2, Madonna, Bronski Beat, Sade, Spandau Ballet and the like. Punk had utterly driven out long haired guys performing guitar solos. David Mitchell must have been an oddball teenager if he ever found himself somewhere that REO Speedwagon were playing! Talk about cultural misrepresentation!

message 15: by Lacewing (new)

Lacewing Here's some REO Speedwagon lyrics. Maybe Mitchell is semi-privately amusing himself with a subtler reference.

So if you're tired of the
Same old story
Turn some pages
I'll be here when you are ready
To roll with the changes

message 16: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments Ha ha. Brilliant.

message 17: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
Okay, I think we've officially nit-picked down to the quantum level if we're getting worked up about cultural misrepresentation because of a single toss-off line about a song :-)

To continue the nit-picking, The album "Hi Infidelity" sold 60,000 copies in the UK. Not exactly overwhelming, but SOMEONE there was listening to REO Speedwagon. And the scene didn't say that the song was playing on the radio. My assumption when I read the scene was that it was a cassette tape, although that wasn't stated either. The point was that the people in the van were presumably lame, so they were playing lame music.

message 18: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
Lacewing wrote: "Here's some REO Speedwagon lyrics. Maybe Mitchell is semi-privately amusing himself with a subtler reference.

So if you're tired of the
Same old story
Turn some pages
I'll be here when you are rea..."

Too funny! But now that song WILL be stuck in my head. Curse you, Lacewing!

message 19: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments "The album "Hi Infidelity" sold 60,000 copies in the UK.
I'm staggered! Who were these 60,000 people?
All in jest, Whitney. The point though is that in, what? a 36 hour time frame the novel is littered with cultural references.

message 20: by Whitney (last edited Feb 01, 2015 02:43PM) (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
Ben wrote: ""The album "Hi Infidelity" sold 60,000 copies in the UK.
I'm staggered! Who were these 60,000 people?..."

Apparently they are in Kent :-)

Bit below has information gleaned from the book jacket, if that's too spoilery for someone, tread carefully:

Since the book involves themes of death and mortality centered around Holy at various ages, I suspect Mitchell was making a very concerted effort to ground the different eras and ages with cultural references, slang etc. I really didn't find the references as intrusive as other people, I'll have to go back and reread keeping an eye out for them.

message 21: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I think in a book that moves through time like this one, and mixes fantasy and reality (for some value of reality -- I lived through the 80's and I have some doubts about how real they were), there's a real need to anchor a book to specific times and places. Thus the references.

message 22: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments Apparently they are in Kent :-)"
LOL. Must have been cos they certainly weren't in London.
I think one can be a bit touchy about (mis)representations of one's own youth! Musically we've got Bob Dylan (virtually off the planet in 1984), Siouxsie & the Banshees (well into decline by then) and Reo who we don't need to talk about anymore. Surely the early 80s were backcombed hair and jingling synth music - Howard Jones, the Thompson twins. Throw them in and I'm right back in 1984. Bob Dylan and I could be anywhere. But yeah I see what you're all saying. I don't like knowing much about books before I read them so I haven't clue where mitchell is going with this one but I guess the fact that the first part is titled 1984 suggests forthcoming parts will be set in different years, if not eras. I suppose my point is it could appear more like Mitchell had googled 1984 than lived through it.

message 23: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments I forgot Talking Heads, again three or four years out of date by 1984!

message 24: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments So now we have a discussion on the merits of REO Speedwagon...:-)

message 25: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Anyone got any thoughts on the prose style? I think Mitchell’s doing a pretty good job of grounding Holly in the ordinary concerns of a teenage girl through her diction without sacrificing his virtuoso talent for telling observation and similes. The voice of a 15 year old girl obviously limits his scope as a writer and sometimes you can feel the strain of the restraint he’s having to exercise to keep Holly credibly ordinary and largely unformed but his relish for language and the pulsing vitality of his imagination is still very much evident. So many sentences that are resplendent with a kind of early morning dew on them.
Good points made about the need to offset the fantasy with mundane 80s paraphernalia. And equally good points about that aspect of the book being perhaps a bit heavy handed and random. It’ll be interesting to see how he portrays the next time frame of the novel.
And what about the fantasy side of the novel? Too early to know much of what’s about to happen but it would appear we have two warring forces – the good guys known as Horologists and the bad guys known as the Anchorites. Horology the science of measuring time (I had to look that up) and anchorites, a term for those who choose to retire from the world. Anyone got any insights as to why he chose these two terms? One thing’s already clear, Mitchell had a lot of fun writing these sections of the novel.

message 26: by Lacewing (last edited Feb 02, 2015 07:24AM) (new)

Lacewing "bone clocks" and horologists and anchorites: living within time vs escaping time, mortal vs immortal.

I don't know about his other books, but in Cloud Atlas and 1000 Autumns, he's taking on modes of magical thinking that resist the limits of lived time, in the one case reincarnation, in the other medical intervention.

Without being too spoilerish, I'll just say, Do pay attention to the cultural artifacts aspect.

message 27: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Thanks for the pointers, Lacewing. Good to know the cultural references are milestones of sorts. You're like the Obi Wan Kenobi on this thread.

message 28: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2353 comments Peter wrote: "I found Holly a lot more likable by the end of Part One than at the beginning. Honestly, if I hadn't read any Mitchell before and I had picked this book up in a store and idly read the first coupl..."

My thoughts were the same, Peter. Holly is starting to show some maturity by the end of part one. She was quite annoying at the beginning. But, all three of the Mitchell books I've read to date have been hard to get into, but oh so worth it.

message 29: by Lacewing (new)

Lacewing Glad to be of service, Violet. The conversation is fruitful, as per usual, with this crew. There's always more to see with other eyes helping us to look, each in their individual ways.

message 30: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2353 comments Ben wrote: "I forgot Talking Heads, again three or four years out of date by 1984!"

I can't really participate in any discussion of 80's music because I pretty much tuned out of the music scene when disco showed up! It was a real turn off for me! From my POV, Dylan never went out of style - he and Joan Baez kept me sane through the disco phase, until Springsteen arrived!

Thanks Lacewing for the heads up about paying attention to the cultural artifacts

message 31: by Lacewing (new)

Lacewing re socialism: In Cloud Atlas, we have a bad guy doctor character harvesting teeth as if mining for gold. In 1000 Autumns, the Dutch part of the plot is driven by profit seeking. Holly's encounter with the socialist pair, I'm minded to note, is filtered through her adolescent, unsophisticated yet sensitive viewpoint. This suggests to me that (he thinks) making caricatures of them is an unsophisticated, adolescent view.

message 32: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments I hang my head in shame for my pedantry. I’ve just been reading a discussion of The Goldfinch by another group where one member stated that the novel had been ruined for her by so many factual inaccuracies. The one thing he/she couldn’t forgive Tartt for was stating that the legal drinking age in the US is 21 not 18 as is the case in the novel. Someone else, very reasonably, pointed out that if you were willing to accept the Met was destroyed by a bomb and a painting that isn’t in the Met was stolen during the confusion surely the logistics of legal drinking ages were a minor matter. He was shouted down and another torrent of supposedly fatal inaccuracies were enumerated as proof that Tarrt’s book was sloppily edited.
So I’ve realised pedantry has no place in the reading of fiction (even mine which was of a playful nature).

message 33: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments And I've just started part two and immediate impression is, this is more like it. Echoes of the gay musician in Cloud Atlas.

message 34: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2353 comments Ben wrote: "I hang my head in shame for my pedantry. I’ve just been reading a discussion of The Goldfinch by another group where one member stated that the novel had been ruined for her by so many factual inac..."

Well, at one time the legal age for drinking in the US in some states was 18 and NY was one one of the states where that was so -- I know because as a college freshmen, we would drive from Erie PA to State Line NY, where we could legally drink. Perhaps that's Tartt's memory, just at Mitchell is providing us his teenage memories.

message 35: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments Yeah, someone mentioned that on the thread, Linda. When I went to the US as an 18 year old (fell in love with an American girl called Linda (!) from Kansas City I met in London) I have a vague memory of the law being very different in Missouri and Kansas as well. I'm with you with Holly too. But you're right Mitchell's books do have a habit of cranking up the energy levels and the voice in the next part, a precocious undergraduate, is much richer and certainly a lot wittier.

message 36: by Terry (last edited Feb 02, 2015 11:36AM) (new)

Terry Pearce I have to admit I am a fan of elegant prose, and though he is doing a good job here of the voice needed to ground this character in reality, I'm not loving it. It's an interesting and hard question -- be beautiful or be real? Take the voice in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle... many would argue not so real as this female teenage voice... but beautiful, strange and interesting, and so I forget any unrealism and love the writing [I love that book and that protagonist].

This is strange to me because in many other aspects realism is important to me. I need characters I can believe, or the whole thing is a bust. But I also need beautiful prose... so what happens if you want to speak with the voice of somebody who doesn't speak beautifully?

message 37: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Terry wrote: "I have to admit I am a fan of elegant prose, and though he is doing a good job here of the voice needed to ground this character in reality, I'm not loving it.
I was the same Terry. I missed the rich beautiful prose of A thousand Autumns and felt a little antagonistic towards this but slowly it began winning me over, especially, as Ben mentions, in the next part when Mitchell has a more eloquent narrator to play with. Also, as far as teenage female voices go, I read A girl is a half Formed Thing last year and in comparison to the protagonist of that Holly as realism seems rather twee and anaemically engineered.

message 38: by Ben (new)

Ben | 54 comments I’m wondering if an adolescent girl might not be the hardest character of all to write for a male novelist. The temptation of course will be to remember oneself as an adolescent boy and work from there. There’s a sense of this with Holly, as if she’s conceived from without rather than from within. Begs the question, how much difference is there between the sexes and are the differences more or less marked before adult experience arrives? There was an interesting comment about the rite of passage to adulthood arriving after the first major altercation with the same sex parent. And it’s already clear Mitchell is interested in tracing the stages of the human soul’s journey through the ages against the intervention of cosmic forces, which he’s wildly exaggerated but which can perhaps be distilled down to the ever-present dynamic of mortality.

My overall impression of this first part was that Holly wasn’t entirely inspired as a voice but that the themes she gave rise to began to fizz with intrigue. I’ve just begun the second part and it’s suddenly become very Cloud Atlasy. And Mitchell’s voice becomes much more self-assured and commanding as a young male narrator. It’s getting much better…

message 39: by Lacewing (new)

Lacewing Setting aside the how and looking at the what . . .

Holly is tough enough but not jaded. Some people are to be trusted, some not; she herself is. She dotes on and defends her weird little brother. Fights with Mam but half forgives for the sake of Ireland and menopause. Her weaknesses are hormones and pride; she won't go home for the shame she'd have to face. She's not self-deceiving, but quite self-aware.


Notice the odd way Holly's loss of memory is presented. She narrates Ian/Esther taking asylum in her mind, a bit she's going to forget. Even though this whole section is present tense, I read it all as being told after the fact. For instance, at one point she says "I'd told" rather than "I've told." Know what I mean?

So, this was jarring, but Mitchell is too good not to have done it knowingly. Weird.

message 40: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Some more great insights here, Lacewing. I agree about Holly's amnesia jarring a bit. I found that section and its immediate aftermath the most difficult part of the novel to swallow so far. In the end I kind of forgot about it rather than accepted it. But like you say Mitchell is too self-aware as a novelist not to have been conscious of the jarring paradox of writing about an event you have supposedly forgotten.

message 41: by Lacewing (last edited Feb 03, 2015 06:37AM) (new)

Lacewing Well, thinking about it leads me to contemplate memory's creativity, for one, and the nature of story making, for two. Both of which fit with a broader perspective on Mitchell's work overall. It'll be one of those quirky things that sticks in my mind's teeth calling for a toothpick.

Adding: How much creativity goes into our experience of the present?

message 42: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments The relationship between storytelling and memory is fascinating in itself. A really good novel awakens a reader's memories of its text at relevant moments and perhaps, equally, allows a reader to temporarily forget text that won't be needed until later. Often a sign of an unsuccessful novel is you find you've forgotten information the author clearly wants you to remember.

message 43: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments the thread for part two is now up by the way - https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

message 44: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2353 comments Violet wrote: "Some more great insights here, Lacewing. I agree about Holly's amnesia jarring a bit. I found that section and its immediate aftermath the most difficult part of the novel to swallow so far. In the..."

It was a bit jarring to realize that Holly's memory of her time with the two young socialists/magicals had been erased but I liked the way we learned it - with Holly trying to figure out why she was not hungry when she had not eaten anything but peanut butter crackers for hours. Perhaps I read enougth fantasy/sci fi to not be bothered by memory wipes! I do keep wondering when the asylum seeker will make an appearance.

message 45: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Forgot about that, Linda. I enjoyed that too, the sausage burps.

message 46: by Terry (new)

Terry Pearce Are you sure that 'I'd told' wasn't past-from-present? I saw at least one example of that... Still in present tense, describing a previous event from the perspective of the flow of present... doesn't say to me that the whole is being told from a future point.

I'd be willing to be shown I was wrong, but that's how I remember it. I thought maybe one of the reasons he chose present was exactly this.

message 47: by Lacewing (last edited Feb 03, 2015 01:54PM) (new)

Lacewing Here's something from page 5: "Yes, I did go downstairs to get Vinny a lager. Yes, I did lower the blind in the front room. Yes, someone did walk by." Up to this point, I process as if she's currently thinking this. But then we get "Relax, I [had] told myself."

See? Right there (and I'm pretty sure this was not the only time) I would expect "I [have]". Or simple present, or without any speaker attribution at all, to reflect being in her head with her.

Is he playing memory games here or am I confused or what?

message 48: by Terry (new)

Terry Pearce I don't read it that way. It's not totally intuitive, but for me it could be written from now, commenting on the fact that in the past she did those things, and at that point had told herself to relax. I get that he could just use simple past but that might make it seem like he was switching. The had accentuates the fact that it was at that point she said it to herself.

It does seem a little unintuitive at times, requiring some parsing, but I'm not convinced he's deliberately playing with it rather than just writing in present tense with pursuant difficulties in referring to other timeframes.

message 49: by Terry (new)

Terry Pearce By the way, re: the references, I'm totally fine with them -- from a teenager's point of view, the world is mainly references. You are what you're into. Stuff is all-important. It didn't take me out of things.

Violet, you have a point perhaps about the realism. I guess I mainly meant that it was inelegant, not that it was particularly brutally real. I have flicked through 'A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing' and I know the kind of real you are talking about [the other that comes to mind is Gwendoline Riley, but she's not that well-known], and it probably is somehow more real than this.

message 50: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments I'm curious what you make of the writing in part two Terry as, to my mind, the prose does become a lot more lyrical.

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