A review by Daniel Haynes
David Mitchell’s latest book, The Bone Clocks, follows the life of Holly Sykes throughout many phases of her life – and from many other characters’ perspectives. Trotting around the globe from Ireland to England to Western Australia and across metaphysical realms, this work of literary fiction genre-hops between fantasy, psychological thriller, romance and mystery as the situation requires.
The Novel is split into different chapters, each roughly a decade apart, spanning the course of Holly Syke’s life from adolescence to old age. There are veritable deities, secret societies and supernatural powers throughout the book, in a world otherwise grounded in reality from the past into the not-too-distant future.
Mitchell’s prose is finely tuned and his use of metaphor and simile is superb. Each character’s voice is unique and clear. Each paragraph just oozes polish and flows off the page. While I’m not as well-read as I’d like to be, if all writing was as effortless to read as this, I’d rarely be seen without my nose buried in a book again.
There were aspects of the novel I found challenging. Each chapter starts with a completely new character and was jarring. Mitchell does well to quickly establish character traits, personality and voice within the opening pages, though it takes a considerable time in each chapter to gain a sense of continuity and connection to the overarching narrative. At times I felt as though I was reading a collection of short stories, very similar in structure to his debut novel Ghostwritten.
It does have more cohesive themes and narrative arc than Ghostwritten, with Mitchell proving his maturation as a writer. The characters in The Bone Clocks are more intricate and complex, the subtext is more interesting and interactions are more meaningful. The world emanates a dark fantasy, mythology akin to those found in works by Gaiman or Del Toro, and fans of the former will find much to adore in the world of The Bone Clocks.
The Bone Clocks, along with much of Mitchell’s work, subverts genres and many literary conventions. Mitchell gives the middle finger to the traditional ebb-and-flow formula for conflict and tension in literary style, throwing out old conventions and building the foundations for a new generation of literary writers and styles to emerge. I’m already craving the next Mitchellian adventure; I’m eager to see the structures he explores in future works.
Format: paperback, 608 pages