The Bone Clocks… in short, it’s a work of beauty.
It begins with Holly Sykes in 1984. She is a rebellious teenager, determined to prove to her mother she can survive on her own after leaving home, only to be jilted by her older boyfriend. As a young girl, she was visited by a woman named Miss Constantin – a mysterious figure who fades in and out of the narrative – and hears voices from whom she calls ‘the Radio People.’
Other than the few and in between mentions of these shady visitors, the story seems to be one concerning real, plausible life. The mystical side of the narrative is only a blip on the radar, yet David Mitchell weaves it in perfectly as if it is nothing out of the ordinary.
But that is only the beginning. After Holly’s younger brother, Jacko (who is, by all standards, strange) goes missing, Holly returns home with a newfound friend, the young Ed Brubeck. From there, we are thrust nearly a decade into the future, 1991, into the narrative of one Hugo Lamb, a student at Cambridge who eventually meets Holly.
In 2004, we again find Ed Brubeck, now entwined in Holly’s life, and in present day we meet Crispin Hershey, diminishing author and soon-to-be acquaintance of Holly. In 2025, we find a mysterious figure, Marinus, the doctor who stopped Holly from hearing voices… and then we’re sent back around to Holly… in 1943.
Even all that information cannot spoil the mystery and the beauty and the complexity of The Bone Clocks. Somehow, Mitchell is able to write a story that spans across time, across dimensions but seems perfectly plausible. The first two thirds of the book are faintly laced with the supernatural, yet the entire time, you know something is brewing, and that something is big. It isn’t until the last quarter that – wallop – you’re hit in the face with the mystery that, so far, you’ve only seen the minutest of glimpses.
Ultimately, the book is Holly’s story. It begins and ends with her. She is the sun around which the universe of the bone clocks spin, and she is tangled up in something far beyond humanity’s ideas of time and space, life and death.
She is given a gift – the ability to see and know and hear things that no one else can, other than perhaps a small handful of others. And like all gifts, it can be a curse. I don’t want to spoil the mystery, because that is truly entertaining to find out on your own. But I will say that it is weird and satisfying and astonishing and so incredibly original. It involves some eternal life (not without terms and conditions, of course) a believable war between good and evil and a serious look at the value and finiteness of human life.
However, it isn’t the book’s plot that drew me in so deeply. Two other aspects accomplished that.
Never have I ever read a book that made me actually feel as though I spent years reading it. And I don’t mean this in the damn-that-took-me-forever-to-finish-I’m-so-glad-it’s-over kind of way. I mean I felt as though I’d spent years with the characters. I saw them change. I saw them grow. I saw family members born, and I saw them die. And as I finished the last sentence, I found myself wondering when I’d actually started the book… because it felt as though I’d been following this story my entire life.
Second: the writing itself is absolutely marvelous.
I wish I had a better vocabulary to describe it. It’s smart, that’s for sure.
If you’ve ever studied literature, you will adore all the literary references that are weaved so perfectly into the book. Mitchell is one smart cookie, which makes The Bone Clocks a refreshing respite from contemporary fiction’s all-too-common lack of depth. Every single sentence is well-thought-out and beautifully crafted.
If I’d hated the plot, I probably would’ve kept reading anyway because the writing is just that good.
I would like to recommend The Bone Clocks to everyone, but I know not everyone would appreciate it. It’s probably a little beyond the grasp of the average reader (I’m talking to you, my fellow Americans) and would be very hard to get through if a reader is not truly dedicated to the act of reading itself.
I wish everyone would read it, but I know that just won’t happen with this kind of book.