Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Book review: The Bone Clocks

David Mitchell's (not that one) The Bone Clocks has some similarities to his most famous book Cloud Atlas, although it's got a more linear structure than the Russian doll format of that novel, and its story takes place over a single lifetime: That of Holly Sykes, who narrates the first segment as a teenager in the 1980s, and the final one as a grandmother in the 2040s. In between we have multiple other narrators, all of whom have some connection to Holly, whether it be a significant one or fleeting.

As well as following a human life from a distance, The Bone Clocks also has a supernatural element that reveals itself more and more as the story goes on: Holly is caught in the middle of a centuries-old war between two species of immortals, one group nicknamed Carnivores, who kill to maintain their own eternal youth, and the other calling themselves Horologists, who are eternally reincarnated while remembering all their previous lives, and who are determined to wipe out the murderous Carnivores.

It may have taken me a while but this was probably my favourite Mitchell book since Cloud Atlas, and it also seems to take place in the same universe as all his other books, including his dire warnings about a post-industrial future (assuming the penultimate Cloud Atlas segment in a high-tech future could have been taking place only in China, while the rest of the world succumbed to the events of The Bone Clocks.) I think strict literary fiction fans might be a bit nonplussed at how the gentle suggestions of the supernatural turn into full-on fantasy for the 2020s part of the story, but for me the personal stories were interesting (even when some of the narrators are far from sympathetic) and the fantasy element effectively blended into the more naturalistic framework.

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