Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Bone Clocks (by David Mitchell)

Another six-part masterpiece by David Mitchell, and in my opinion it's a return to form after Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which underwhelmed me somewhat. 

This time each of the sections moves chronologically forward in time, and each connects to our heroine, the sympathetic Holly Sykes. The point of view shifts to other people in Holly's life, including two somewhat narcissistic, Frobisher-esque characters Hugo Lamb and Crispin Hershey. (The central character is a woman, and there is some gender fludity later in the book, but there's a lot here that feels very blokey. Just an observation.) Mitchell also introduces some metaphysical elements in part one that don't truly pay off until 400 pages later, but definitely make Bone Clocks feel connected to a larger whole.

I've read a couple of reviews now (the New Yorker review being one) arguing that the metaphysical themes ultimately overshadow and render moot the human elements of the novel. After sleeping on it, I disagree with that assessment. Sure, the humans are treated in a sense as unwitting pawns in a great cosmic struggle. But what the Horologists are fighting for is humanity.  And it's the character of Holly Sykes, above all, that grounds this struggle and reminds us why humans are worth fighting for. The final scene, and our investment in the very human characters in that scene, belies this entire argument.

This is a contender in the 2015 Tournament of Books, and I'm excited to see how it does, though my gut tells me it's not going to win, I could certainly be wrong. I don't think it overtakes Cloud Atlas in my own personal pantheon (in contrast to Cloud Atlas, with its stark shifts in voice and genre, Bone Clocks feels all of a piece)  but it's still classic Mitchell, and it's a wonderful novel.

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