Published by Random House
Publication date: September 2nd 2014
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks begins in 1984 with sixteen-year-old Holly Sykes running away from home in a fit of rage over her mother’s refusal to let her move in with a man she loves and then finding that man in bed with her best friend. While on the road Holly meets a very old woman who asks her if she will give her refuge if she needs it. She says yes and unknowingly makes herself a key player in a century’s old battle between the good Atemporals and the evil Anchorites. The Atemporals are immortal through their ability to transport their spirit into a human’s form without changing or damaging the human and the Anchorites do so by stealing the souls from young children. And so, with the tempestuous emotions of one teenage girl Mitchell eases the reader into a story that will span almost 60 years and cover territory both earthly and supernatural.
The story of the two groups and the violence of their first major battle takes place near the beginning of the book and is witnessed by Holly. Because the Atemporals have the ability to erase certain spans of time or memories, she has no knowledge of what she has seen. For much of The Bone Clocks, the supernatural characters linger on the periphery and it is the wide spread cast of humans that Mitchell uses to ground the novel. We follow Holly as she embraces the psychic powers that make her integral to both the Atemporals and through the ordinariness of her life as a wife and mother. When, in her later years, her part in the drama becomes clear she embarks with them on their final move to eradicate the Anchorites.
There is so much going on in The Bone Clocks that it is inevitable that some pieces of the puzzle will fall away or be forgotten. There is repeated mention of “The Script” but what it is and why it is important remains unexplained. In the same way, Crispin Hershey is a character who enters Holly’s life at a book fair. They form an unlikely friendship throughout the years but even though Hershey’s story is compelling, its part in the larger picture is unclear. There is also a young woman named Soleil Moon who tries to convince Hershey to read her work. She appears again and again in his life insisting he must read her poems but while the aggression of her belief results in terrible actions her purpose is never really explained. These missing pieces, juxtaposed against the detailed lives of so many of the characters, make The Bone Clocks a lengthy novel at almost 700 pages and cause confusion. It is difficult to know who or what is integral to the plot.
The final battle in the novel combines all the dramatic elements of otherworldly forces but it is Holly Sykes who holds the novel together. Her character fascinates and left me wanting more in a way the immortals and their conflict did not. Mitchell complies with this desire to read more of Holly’s life but it comes in the last 100 pages, a point which feels too late; reader fatigue has already set in. For others the problem will be the exact opposite and the human aspects of the story are too long and not enough attention paid to the supernatural. Both sides lose on this point but The Bone Clocks is still a beautiful, fantastical tale that showcases Mitchell’s extravagant imagination and moves with his graceful prose.
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