The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell


    Time magazine named David Mitchell, author of six novels including Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten, Number 9 Dream and The Bone Clocks, one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007.  The Bone Clocks is the first I’ve read, though I did see the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas.  I’m not sure what Time magazine’s criteria for influence was, but Mitchell certainly writes persuasively about the irreversible ecological damage we are doing to Planet Earth and seems to have built himself a neat, but rather strange, philosophy connecting Buddhism, Atheism and Oligarchy.

   I have a one-degree relationship with David Mitchell and because of that and the inclusion of The Bone Clocks on nearly every end-of-year best of list, I wanted to read the novel before 2015 dawned.  I finished it yesterday, just making the deadline.  But I became aware of The Bone Clocks in October, during the Salt Cay Writers Retreat.  My small group leader there, David Ebershoff, himself a novelist, teacher and an editor at Random House, mentioned Mitchell’s book as having taken him by storm over one weekend.  As I recall, David said he began reading it on a plane to California and by the time he arrived, he was racing to connect with his boss on the telephone so that Random House could acquire the book.  From a person of David’s talent and experience, that’s pretty durn high praise.


     Mitchell’s unique storytelling method compelled me through the six hundred plus page novel.  It is a chronological narrative, in the first person, but the person is not always the same and the chronology fractures and bounces, moving from 1984 to 2043, sometimes day by day and sometimes decade by decade.  Holly Sykes, the rebellious teen whose voice begins the book, is with us nearly all the way, disappearing and reappearing when we need her to establish a touchstone among the various factions.  The plot revolves around a war between two sets of immortals:  one reincarnated “naturally,” and the others who have to work for it.  Unfortunately, Holly gets caught up not only in the immortal war, but also in the invasion of Iraq, a literary battle and ultimately, a war between the haves and the have-nots in a post-apocalyptic world.

    The Bone Clocks breaks all the rules of genre that new authors hear spouted by those in the know at literary conferences.  It is a dystopian, futuristic, fantasy, coming of age, realistic, theological novel.  In other words, un-categorizable.  And yet, incredibly successful.

    NPR calls it “one of the most entertaining and thrilling novels I’ve read in a long time.”  The following link contains a review as well as an author interview.  The Bone Clocks was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and it was on the end of year best lists of Time, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, and others.

    But the New Yorker, in an exploration of what is the modern novel/is the novel still relevant/why novels, is less than 77.David Mitchell-The Bone Clocks jacketenthusiastic, calling the work “entertaining . . . but not humanly significant.”

    Fascinating, to me, is Mitchell’s reliance on the reader to fill in huge gaps in the narrative.  For long passages at a time, there is simply dialogue between two characters who know what they are talking about, but which remains a mystery to the reader.  And despite the mystery, the reader continues until sometime, often much, later, the subject matter is explained.

    The writing itself varies from cheeky humor to bleakly preachy:

It’s grief for the regions we deadlined, the ice caps we melted, the Gulf Stream we redirected, the rivers we drained, the coasts we flooded, the lakes we choked with crap, the seas we killed, the species we drove to extinction, the pollinators we wiped out, the oil we squandered, the drugs we rendered impotent, the comforting liars we voted into office — all so we didn’t have to change our cozy lifestyles.  People talk about the Endarkenment like our ancestors talked about the Black Death, as if it’s an act of God.  But we summoned it, with every tank of oil we burned our way through.  My generation were diners stuffing ourselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing — while denying — that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren a table that can never be paid.

    I do recommend it for a book club that doesn’t mind reading a longish book.  There is a lot of meat to discuss, both in terms of the superficial plot and in terms of questions that I don’t feel Mitchell ever really answers.  Marius for example.  And Jacko.  To say more, would be unfair.


     There is lots of food mentioned in The Bone Clocks but only two items really stood out to me.  One being a vegetarian moussaka, which I have absolutely zero experience with.  But near mid-book, cafe owner Nestor practically divulges his secret recipe:  “marinate the eggplant in red wine.  Simmer the lentils, slow.  Mushrooms cooked in soy sauce . . . butter in white sauce, cornflour, dash of cream.  Heavy on the paprika.”

    The other:  apples.

   And Holly’s family owns a tavern in Gravesend, England, so I’d make sure to have several pints of ale on hand.


     Holly’s 15 year old self is quite the music fan and makes various references to her favorites in Section One of the book.  Among them:

Talking Heads’ Fear of Music

The Who’s Quadrophenia

The Ramones

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven


     I can’t even begin to conceive of how someone would make this into a movie much less cast it.  The shifting natures/genders of several main characters and the enormous span of time involved would seriously challenge even the best director.

Holly Sykes — Emma Watson

Ed Brubeck — Eddy Redmayne

Crispin Hershey — Michael Sheen

Hugo Lamb — Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy)

Imaculee Constantin — Nicole Kidman