Monday, October 27, 2014

'The Bone Clocks' by David Mitchell

27 October 2014

A new novel by David Mitchell always feels like an event and 'The Bone Clocks' (which I've just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, Steven Crossley, Laurel Lefkow and Anna Bentinck) did not disappoint. Mitchell is one of my favourite contemporary novelists and I have read all six of his novels. His last work 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ (reviewed here in August 2011) felt like an epic, but 'The Bone Clocks' is even longer (the audio version lasting 24.5 hours). Having lived in Japan, David Mitchell is a big admirer of Huraki Murakami and it seems too much of a coincidence not to suppose that 'The Bone Clocks' might have been influenced by Murakami's recent mammoth novel '1Q84' (reviewed here in April 2012). '1Q84' opens with a young woman climbing down the emergency stairs from a Tokyo expressway and entering a surreal parallel world, while in 'The Bone Clocks' a teenage girl runs into an underpass beneath a dual carriageway in Kent and observes a gateway opening to another world. The fact that this happens in 1984 is surely not a coincidence. 'The Bone Clocks' is David Mitchell's most 'Cloud Atlas'-like book since 'Cloud Atlas. Both have an episodic structure with sudden leaps from one section to the next, each with a different first-person narrator (the different points of view being very effectively emphasised in the audio version by use of a new reader for each section). Both books span centuries and extend into the future, entering science fiction territory. But 'The Bone Clocks' is more of a single story, compared to the loosely linked narratives of 'Cloud Atlas'. And that story is the tale of Holly Sykes, a teenager living in Gravesend when we first encounter her in 1984, whose life will become inextricably linked with the survival of the planet. Like Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell creates a meticulously believable real-world narrative into which he inserts aspects of magical realism. But, unlike Murakami, Mitchell tends to tie-up the loose ends and 'The Bone Clocks' very satisfyingly explains and resolves its fantastical elements. David Mitchell is also a very playful author – his novels all contain disguised references to each other and 'The Bone Clocks' continues this tradition as well as incorporating a major character from 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’. Mitchell even goes so far as to make one his characters a writer so that he can quote a review of one of that writer's novels which says “The fantasy subplot clashes so violently with the book’s State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look ... What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?”. This is very entertaining meta-fiction (though David Mitchell has had to deny rumours that his fictional author Crispin Hershey is supposed to be Martin Amis). 'The Bone Clocks' is a state of the world novel, dealing with Iraq, climate change and the perils of our dependence on declining reserves of fossil fuels. It is also a fantasy novel, featuring pre-cognition, telepathy and battles between warring factions of immortal 'superheroes'. It's a complicated, enthralling, hugely entertaining epic novel – highly recommended.



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