The Bone Clocks

David Mitchell

Book cover

This was a book that grew on me. Near the beginning, I felt frustrated with it, but I warmed to it later on. (As long as it is, there is plenty of time for that to happen.) For me, it fell somewhere between “Cloud Atlas” (a pretty good book) and “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” (an awesome book). Reviews that I read made much of the fact that “Bone Clocks” integrates elements from several other of Mitchell’s books, but honestly, while reading it, that felt like an almost inconsequential detail–which was fine by me.

BC also falls between CA and JdZ in its narrative structure. CA has an extremely formalistic structure yoking together several seemingly unrelated narratives from different time periods; JdZ has a very natural novelistic structure. BC is closer to the latter; different sections happen in different eras and sometimes with different protagonists, but are all clearly part of a single narrative continuity.

At its core, this book is a thriller (genre-wise). It takes a little time to build up its head of steam (it is 600+ pages, after all), but, as sometimes happens with me (e.g. Hunger Games), I ended up careening through the last hundred pages or so in a single sitting.

BC contains several science-fiction elements that I won’t spoiler here. My main gripe about the book has to do with the introduction of these elements near the beginning of the book. There are a lot of Capitalized Terms and intentional throwing-around-in-dialog of names that are unfamiliar to you. I think the initial “weird” scenes would be much stronger without this; the insertion of these terms seems like an unnecessary reminder that you are reading a science fiction novel. (A great counter-example, where Mitchell handles the element with extreme parsimony, is the scene with Esther and Holly on the dock near the very beginning.) But, I will say that I think Mitchell handles these concepts very well later in the book. He walks a fine line between saying so little about the elements that they are a total cipher (1Q84) and laying out too much encyclopedic detail about how the world works.

As in CA, BC has a post-apocalyptic narrative at the end. I think (in both cases) Mitchell does a great job of rendering that world in a heavily atmospheric but believable way. I am not very familiar with this genre, so I can’t really compare his writing to others’, but I really enjoyed this part. While there are certainly elements of danger, it has a sort of earthy, homespun atmosphere.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars