The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: This is the life of Holly Sykes also doubling as an eclectic confection of enticing curiosity. In other words it serves those of us who just want a stonking good read as well as the literary discussionistas. I want it to win the 2014 Man Booker but we shall see.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 608 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0340921609

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Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014.

Holly Sykes is 15 and has found true love with an older man in his twenties - until she finds him in bed with her best mate. Upset and disorientated, she runs away from home. This may enable her to escape from the unfaithful Vinny and her overbearing family but not the weirdness. She's not the only one though: Hugo the student, conman and lothario thought he was only doing someone a good turn when the weirdness started for him. There is a point to it though: eventually battle lines will be drawn and it's anyone's guess as to who will win, despite what the Anchorites may say.

David Mitchell needs little introduction apart from mentioning he's the one who wrote Cloud Atlas, not the funny David Mitchell (although I'm sure the author also has his moments). Having said this, I can now detect you dividing into camps: the literati versus those who prefer a straightforward, good story. Please don't be split by stories you may have heard about plot complexity, fears of impenetrable oddness etc. If you do feel a slight associated edginess, I have a message for you: this is a novel for both sides. The Bone Clocks is an easy read and wonderful for many reasons. Don’t just take my word for it; greater people than I are calling this Mr M's best novel to date.

The first thing that strikes us is that David is a born storyteller who knows how to create characters who communicate with a readership. Through each of the book's sections spanning from 1984 to an apocalyptic 2043, we are guided by some wonderfully magnetic people.

Holly begins our sojourn and she also crops up throughout others' stories too as she develops into womanhood from the slighted teenager we first encounter. Then there's the awful (in a well-written way) self-absorbed, hedonist Hugo, totally heartless until he meets Holly (not the last metamorphosis we seem him undergo). We also spend time with Ed Brubeck, someone who first appears as Holly's teenage rescuer but then comes back into her life later in a completely different role.

My personal favourite is the author Crispin Hershey who, interestingly enough, is the only one of the narrators who ignores the fourth wall and addresses us directly. He has a permanent air of delicious disgruntlement, heightened by contact with his spiteful reviewer nemesis Richard Cheeseman. (David denies that Hershey is Martin Amis but not all are convinced!)

The second thing we notice is that David doesn't half cover some ground. The subjects explored are more than eclectic; they also show the author's deft use of research and comment. For instance via Hershey he takes an amusingly barbed pop at the world of book festivals and publishing but Mitchell can be serious too. The sections on warfare via the voice of a witness to the devastation are as heart rending as they are riven with subtle undertones of brutality. In this way the subjects continue to parade before us, delighting, shocking and enticing us on with the carrot of curiosity.

Ok, David may not play it straight down the line. He gently leads us into a world where memories can be 'redacted' and people given sanctuary in unexpected ways. Indeed right from the beginning there are shadows of oddity that drift in and out. Who is this 'Little' woman? What is the Script? (No, not the Irish band in this case.) He scatters little enticing breadcrumbs among the biographies that bleed into each other and we follow like the answer-hungry readers he's turned us into.

Yes, there are some fantasy aspects to it but more subtle than most fantasy, making it more compelling (and I speak as a huge conventional fantasy fan). Our understanding also ebbs and flows as surprising curved ball after curved ball comes at us as, encouraging us to trust that eventually all will be revealed. (This is gratification delay is done on purpose and, gosh, it works!) Eventually we're paid off with a humdinger of a double climax: the all-action preceding the more considered.

The Bone Clocks definitely deserves its place on the Man Booker 2014 long-list mainly because, for me, it deserves to win. I would argue with those who have said that David Mitchell writes the same book over and over again, but if you believe that, then this must be the proof that practice makes perfect.

Thank you, Sceptre, for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you haven't read it, do try Cloud Atlas. If you're already a fan, then we think you may also enjoy Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway or The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes.

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Buy The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell at

Booklists.jpg The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2014.


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