“Love’s pure free joy when it works, but when it goes bad you pay for the good hours at loan-shark prices.”
– Holly Sykes in David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks
Although he’s one of my favorite writers, I’ve never written about any of David Mitchell’s books (although I have hand-sold them to customers a time or two hundred). Mentally I’ve been gearing up for an essay like the ones music critics are called upon to craft when a legendary musician releases a boxed set, an essay which would tackle not just the substance of Ghostwritten, Number 9 Dream, Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet but would explain their significance in the pantheon of modern fiction. I would prove that his weakest novel is Number 9 Dream and not – as many fans contend – Black Swan Green, and I would also show why the weakest of Mitchell’s efforts still casts an indomitable shadow over 97% of everything else 2006 offered readers. This essay would not only prove to loyal fans how right they’ve been all along, it would make new readers unable to resist entering the fold.
Well, my glorious essay has yet to materialize, but David Mitchell has given us The Bone Clocks.
“Once upon a time ‘my body’ meant ‘me,’ pretty much, but now ‘me’ is my mind and my body is a selection of ailments and aches.”
– Holly Sykes
One morning last week, my wife returned from dropping our son off at science camp and found me not showered-and-off -to-work as I should have been, but still in bed, clutching the Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Bone Clocks to my chest, heart pounding, having just finished the section titled “Crispin Hershey’s Lonely Planet.”
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Having a heart attack,” I answered.
“Well, a literary one.” I stopped hugging the book long enough to hold it towards her. “This is just… so… good.”
This morning my soul cried out when I saw how pitifully few pages remained, and when I was done I fought the urge to immediately turn back to the beginning and take the journey again. Call this The Mitchell Effect.
You’ll notice I’m avoiding summary more than usual. That’s because in this case, giving away anything of the plot would be a crime.
“I pull my blanket over me like Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, whom I feel like, in fact, in a world of too many wolves and not enough woodcutters.”
– Holly Sykes
If you’re new to David Mitchell, the best I can tell you is that reading The Bone Clocks is like watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception or reading an Andy Kaufman script. The world you’re experiencing is offered so masterfully that by the time you’re watching a fight scene which takes place on three different planes of existence simultaneously or a chase scene through a person’s memories, you understand and accept it down to the ground, in all its fantastic, mind-bending glory. Let me tell you a story, these pages whisper, and by the time I really get going, it will have crept up on you so slowly that you won’t know what hit you.
What’s the “it” in that sentence? “It” is whatever Mitchell wants It to be. Apart from Black Swan Green, a straightforward coming-of-age novel, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a fairly straightforward historical fiction, long-time readers know Mitchell defies genre. Is The Bone Clocks Sci-Fi or fantasy? Speculative Fiction? An anti-war novel? Did David Mitchell blend all of these elements and more – thriller, romance, bildungsroman, midlife crisis fiction, domestic fiction – for five hundred pages only wind up with an Ectopian Fiction?
Um… Yes. How does he make it all work? I don’t know. The man must be a magician, and books are his spells.
If you’re a long-time reader then The Bone Clocks will confirm your suspicions that David Mitchell hasn’t written six different novels, he’s written one epic in six installments. The only bad news is that you’ll need to wait until September to read the latest.
But I say you should spend that time getting your hopes up. Because The Bone Clocks does not disappoint.