Before I get started on my review of The Bone Clocks, my friend Ariel of One Little Library has put together a survey on reader’s interests. If you would like to participate, please do.
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David Mitchell’s most recent book is another fascinating novel that reminds me a bit of his Cloud Atlas. It explores themes of temporality, life after death, and the human soul and ends in a near-future dystopian vision. Unlike Cloud Atlas, though, The Bone Clocks takes place completely within the course of one woman’s life.
The novel begins in 1984. Fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes has had a fight with her mom after staying out late with her 24-year-old boyfriend Vince. Determined to leave school and move in with Vince, she packs her things and goes, but not before being spotted by her seven-year-old brother Jacko.
She marches over to Vince’s, only to find him in bed with her best friend. Devastated, she flees her home town of Gravesend, not knowing where to go. Later that day, she meets Ed Brubeck, a boy from her school, who helps her find shelter for the night in a church. Taking the idea from a story he tells her, she decides to travel to a nearby island where he worked the summer before picking strawberries.
Holly heard voices when she was a child, and she called them the Radio People. But after her mother became worried about her, a Dr. Marinus stopped them simply by touching her forehead. Since then, her life has been perfectly normal.
But that afternoon several odd things happen. First, she thinks she sees Jacko go into a pedestrian tunnel ahead of her, but when she gets there, she can’t find him. Then a couple pick her up hitch-hiking and take her to their home for a meal. There some events occur that make it clear to readers that some kind of supernatural war is going on involving her. But Holly remembers nothing of this.
Holly goes on to work at the strawberry farm. But the second day, Ed arrives to tell her that Jacko has disappeared.
The narration continues in stories told by other characters, but Holly appears in all of them. In one, Hugo Lamb is a college student who seems to be genial and caring but is actually a sociopath who tries to lure his more wealthy friends into deals he will profit by and steals rare stamps from a senile old man. He meets Holly on a skiing trip in Switzerland and honestly falls in love with her. But fate and a mysterious group called the Anchorites have other plans for him.
We follow Holly through her life as she marries Ed, writes a book called The Radio People, and gets old. At each encounter, inexplicable things happen until Holly is pulled into a battle between the Anchorites and the Horologists.
David Mitchell is a master storyteller. Although I do not consider The Bone Clocks a masterpiece, as I do Cloud Atlas, it is almost as rewarding—at times comic, at times suspenseful. Mitchell likes to tease us, too, by repeating characters from book to book. In this case, Dr. Marinus also appears in his wonderful historical novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Time spent with Mitchell is well spent.