Book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David MitchellThe Bone Clocks: What it is about

From the publishers: “One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . . .

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.”

The Bone Clocks: What I thought

Reading this book was not an undivided success: The beginning and the end were beautiful, the middle dull, and the fight between the two secret societies (let’s call them that) ridiculous. I didn’t care much about those societies; I found them unconvincing. Their story was a clever idea, but for me that part of the book was really just a story.

I think the problem was that we were initially (and indeed in the second and third instances) given second-hand information about the societies and their workings. Holly Sykes, a 16-year-old who had run away from home, experienced some odd moments, which could later be explained as the result of the actions of the members of these societies. I would have much preferred to have seen this story from the point of view of one of these members much earlier than was the case so I could see firsthand what happened. Hindsight explanations are fine, but it would have been much more convincing to experience this firsthand.

Anyway, the story of Holly, both in the first and the last part of the book, was interesting. But it felt as if there were two different Holly’s: one was sixteen years old and ran away from home, the other was in her seventies and grandmother. During the intervening years, we came across Holly only occasionally and not as a main character. Because we always looked at her from the perspective of someone else, I did not feel attached to her so much and I found it hard to see in the old lady the same person as the young Holly.

The book is divided into six parts, with each part told from the perspective of a different character, except the beginning and the end, where Holly plays the lead role. Each part is placed further in time, such that the book takes place over a period of about sixty years. The division into parts was not unpleasant but some parts went on for quite a long time. Indeed, I wonder whether the book really should be as big as it is (around 200,000 words, phew!). It is packed with great insights, observations and ideas, but whether these all had to be present in one book? Cut to the chase! I would occasionally cry, but then I politely continued reading. Until there was that fight between the secret societies. I’ll be honest: During that part of the story, I skipped a bit here and there. The rest of the book I completely read, but that fight felt like a cliché adventure story.

In contrast, the ending was again superb! We are then in 2043, in a post-apocalyptic world where the Chinese are in charge, there isn’t enough food (there is a food bank where everyone (everyone!) gets their weekly portions) and many items are no longer for sale. Electricity is scarce and the Internet is irregular (and is already limited in scope).

A nasty world, while it had started so innocently in 1984.

This is a book full of ideas and events, but a very big book. For the real Mitchell enthusiast this is a must of course. Others may just think twice before they start reading it, because it’s an investment in time – but you certainly get something for your trouble!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (okay to good)

Number of pages: 608

First published: 2014

I got this: from the Dutch publishers

Genre: Contemporary fiction


About Judith
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9 Responses to Book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

  1. techeditor says:

    I’m not fond of this author’s books, so I won’t be reading this.

  2. Athira says:

    David Mitchell’s books are almost always ambitious. I have been looking forward to reading this one, but will have to get to it when I am more in mood for it.

  3. I’ve enjoyed all of Mitchell’s other books, but this one didn’t do it for me. I didn’t find the first part interesting so that makes me feel less bad about not getting to the final part – the middle was so dull I abandoned it! It’s reassuring that you didn’t fall in love with it 🙂

  4. I’ve heard only positive things about this book so it’s great to see a balanced review. It sounds a little how I felt about Cloud Atlas, 6 parts different characters again and all a bit too long with some bits boring and some bit amazing. I might give it a go but definitely not getting te hardback.

  5. Too bad the middle was dull, I love the sound of it! 🙂

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