I was super-excited to read The Bone Clocks which promised to be a return to Mitchell’s genre-bending style as seen in Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten both of which I loved (as opposed to the more straightforward Black Swan Green which I didn’t enjoy so much- review here).
It is a little difficult to summarise the plot. The Bone Clocks basically, after a fashion, follows the life of Holly Sykes. We are first introduced to her as a teenager in 1980s Gravesend. She decides to run away from home but some rather strange things happen to her along the way. Later she publishes a successful memoir of her psychic experiences and then (in a chapter set in the near future) goes to live in rural Ireland as the world goes to hell in a handcart. We go on to hear from other characters whose lives intersect with Holly’s- Hugo Lamb, a scheming womanising Oxbridge student, Crispin Hershey, a has-been author, Ed Brubeck, Holly’s Iraq war-correspondent partner, and Marinus, an ‘atemporal horologist’ an immortal being engaged in a struggle of good vs. evil against the child killing Anchorites.
I found reading The Bone Clocks a confusing experience. On the one hand I liked most of the characters, in particular Brubeck and the older Holly, and I enjoyed reading about the less likeable ones. I found the ‘straight’ bits of the book engaging with the different settings of time and place well imagined. However I just did not like the fantasy elements which I found jarring and over-complicated. For these parts, Mitchell has created a whole new vocabulary which for me was difficult to read (“the script/ counter-script”, “subspeak”, “suasion”, “scansion”). Like Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten there are the underlying themes of rebirth and inter-connectedness and of destiny and free will. Like in his other works several of The Bone Clocks’ characters can be found in Mitchell’s earlier books, which is fun for his regular readers. In all, there is a lot here to admire but for me its not a patch on Cloud Atlas.