Holly Sykes is a fifteen-year-old girl who also happens to be a psychic. Right now, though, that hardly matters—she’s just had a fight with her mother and is running away from home. Holly’s journey is rather unremarkable and ends abruptly, but the most interesting parts of it are those that she doesn’t remember, and that involve her in a supernatural war between soul stealers and the immortals who oppose them over the course of her life.
Composed of six interconnected novellas revolving around one character, The Bone Clocks is an intricately constructed and fascinating story with many different elements and well-developed characters. Though it can drag at times, it’s worth persevering through for how well Mitchell brings it together at the end.
David Mitchell is a celebrated author, a writer who pens modern classics (such as Cloud Atlas) and who is generally beloved and praised. When you have an author such as this and have never read him or her, you have two options: read the latest release that everyone is reading or go back and read their most famous book. But with the latter strategy, you run the risk of that being his or her best book and everything else being downhill from there. So, I decided to go ahead and read The Bone Clocks to find out what the fuss was about.
It’s really hard to characterize The Bone Clocks; my summary above doesn’t really do it justice because it’s so complex and there is so much going on. It’s composed of six novellas about 100 pages each, all revolving around the same character, Holly Sykes, and move forward in time from the 1980s to the 2040s. Holly isn’t the main character of each section, but she’s present throughout the narrative as a major character.
My personal favorite narrative was that of Ed, a war photographer, who so badly wants to be with his wife and daughter and make them happy, but is addicted to the rush of war, to putting himself in danger at every turn. Not only that, but he’s carrying the deaths of his friends on his conscience and feels that if he gives up, then they died for nothing. It’s fascinating from a psychological perspective and it’s unnerving how deeply Mitchell gets the reader into the character’s head. Indeed, all of these characters are incredibly well developed, and whether you like them or not, they’ll stay with you for a long time.
The supernatural elements of The Bone Clocks felt a little strange, but they actually worked well because they pop in and out of the narrative here and there. The reader knows that they are playing an important part of the story, but just what is really happening is still a mystery. Mitchell refers to it enough such that it becomes normal, and thus the reader becomes accustomed to it as it plays a larger and larger part. It’s definitely a unique twist, and an interesting one at that.
My main issue when it came to The Bone Clocks was the length. I’m having trouble really discussing it because I can’t specifically remember any parts that felt slow or unnecessary, having reached the stunning conclusion and now understanding how every piece fits together, but there were definitely times where it dragged. When I was at about 500 pages in and there were still almost 150 pages left, I couldn’t help but be in disbelief that I was still reading it. I suppose it’s a warning that this book can seem like a slog at times (but most of the times it moves along well), but it’s worth perservering through those because it really is such a well told book. The ending is so well done; when I first started it, I couldn’t understand the purpose and was just ready to be finished with the novel, but it’s amazing how Mitchell brings everything together. This was really a beautiful book; I’m glad it was my first David Mitchell, and I’ll definitely be going back and reading his other books.