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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Bone Clocks: Brilliant, Hypnotic, Best Novel of 2014

This novel is amazingly brilliant. And I loved it. Absolutely, intensely loved it. It's a great companion piece to Mitchell's most famous novel Cloud Atlas, but it's also a nod to Mitchell's other novels (characters from Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet pop up again), as well as ground-breaking films like The Matrix and Inception. In total, The Bone Clocks is just about the bravest, smartest, most entertaining, most inventive, and most fun to read novel I've put into my brain in a very long time.

So the novel is actually six interconnected stories with one central character — Holly Sykes — as the anchor.  She herself (in first person) tells us the first (in 1984, she's a 16-year-old girl running away from home in a small town in England) and the last (in 2043, as a 75-year-old living in the Irish countryside as the world collapses). The four stories in between, all as fascinating and entertaining as Holly's first-person story, expand on the overall narrative — which, and this is going to sound crazy, is about two factions of immortal beings whose souls can occupy human forms, but who are at war with each other, a classic good vs. evil story.

The real genius of the novel is how Mitchell grounds this fantastical, metaphysical, centuries-long war in very human stories. And furthermore, it's amazing how Mitchell positions Holly at the center of all these stories, even when she's not overtly the protagonist. Stories Nos. 2-4, about a douchey college kid in the early 1990s, a war-zone journalist in 2004 Iraq, and an aging boozy English novelist (Martin Amis, perhaps?) traveling the world in the last half of the 2010s are all fascinating and terribly fun to read as set pieces. There's humor, there's tragedy, there are love stories, and there's treachery.

But again the true genius of this novel is how details from each story begin to fulfill the promise of the clues Mitchell gives us in the first 100 pages (in Holly's first story) for what he's really up to. And then it's the fifth story where things get weird, and Mitchell brings it all together — and there's a battle, and a labyrinth, and a golden apple, and it's just so breathtakingly original and imaginative, you're in true, utter amazement. I was, anyway. It's one of those cases where you read a few pages, have to put the book down for a minute, go "wow," and then continue reading.

This is my favorite novel of the year, and I need some time to decide yet, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities that it winds up as one of my favorites of all time. It'll be hard to tell, though, as it's clear Mitchell is sort of building an entire fictional world piece by piece with each of his novels, spinning off characters, reappearing characters, and furthering themes. I don't know of any writer working now or in the past as ambitious as Mitchell seems to be. I was on the edge before, but now I'm officially an incorrigible Mitchell fanboy. Man, this was good. And I'm jealous of you if you're going to soon pick it up for the first time.

7 comments:

  1. I loved The Bone Clocks as well. Not sure if it's my favorite of the year but it's certainly on the short list. For whatever reason, I never got around to Mitchell's last novel but reading this has certainly reasserted his place as one of my favorite writers.

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    1. I'm late to Mitchell as well - but better late than never. He's so, so good.

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  2. Ok, here's my question. If I've never read Mitchell (yeah, that's me), is this a good place to start? Or should I start with one of his older novels and then work up to this?

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    1. I'd start with Black Swan Green, actually - it's pretty straightforward and doesn't have the "weird factor," as Cloud Atlas and this one do. That said, you don't need necessarily to know the characters from the previous novels to understand the story in this one, but it definitely adds depth and a bit of a "I'm in on the joke" feeling.

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    2. Duly noted and duly noted. Thank you!

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  3. I'm listening to the audio now. So far so good. I always enjoy your reviews and book selections. Thank you!

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  4. Not surprisingly, readers of Mitchell's past books will note many recurring names and hints to past books, however, unlike the past fleeting references, a few of the connections here are substantive enough to merit a reread.

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