I share this little, personal tale, because I have concurrently found myself reading a number of stories about time and its manipulation. Significantly, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell . . . a story about the vast relativity of time and the finite relationship the human race has to it.
Talk about putting my busy, little calendar into perspective.
I fell in love with The Bone Clock’s central character, Holly Sykes, before I was finished with the first paragraph. Holly is a teenager when we first encounter her, and I was thoroughly captivated by her energy, brashness, and underlying vulnerability. So, I was shocked to suddenly leave her at the end of the first section, and then oh-so-grateful to find that she would be woven through the rest of the story, if only through the lens of other characters. It was ultimately a fascinating journey to meet her in her teens, follow her general path through her various relationships over the span of several decades, and then rejoin her point of view to find out where all those diverse experiences had brought her.
I developed a similar fondness for the other characters as they were introduced in each section. This is a testament to the strength of Mitchell’s writing, because not all of these characters have very sympathetic personalities. Yet Mitchell finds a way to layer in such a degree of complexity and humanity into even the most un-redemptive souls; you find yourself wanting to sit down and have a drink with them.
The book’s character, point of view, and temporal shifts were initially disconcerting, and I think a bit of foreknowledge about David Mitchell’s methods of storytelling will be very helpful to a new reader, like myself. And, all readers should be prepared for wanting to immediately re-read the book to examine every plot point again through the telescope of hindsight.
Mitchell tackles vast and varied themes. Immortality, addiction, narcissism, revenge, regret. Political struggles abound—from the working class struggles of the 1980s to Russian serf classes in the 1800s to Iraqi political triangles during the second American invasion. And then, he layers on the supernatural and the spiritual—immortality, time manipulation, cross-gender reincarnation, the fates human interconnectionacross time and space. There are truly no boundaries to this storytelling and no topics off limits.
In the end, Mitchell pulls the broad scope of the story down to a painfully narrow focus. The final section of The Bone Clocks is a reminder that civilization’s “normal” state of existence is a definition that has varied wildly from generation to generation. Our current state of technological connectivity and perceived security is a delicate bubble that wouldn’t take a very hard poke to significantly alter. Even slipping back a few generations would be an catastrophically destabilizing event.
On all fronts, I was captivated by this story. It will be bouncing around in my head for a long time to come. I’m eager to check out more of Mitchell’s work . . . I might even bump Cloud Atlas up in my Netflix queue.
On a side note: As I explored additional reading about David Mitchell and his methods of storytelling, I discovered a new word that I was unaware of that I already loved, “Metalepsis.” My favorite use of this “transgression of the boundaries of a fictional world by an object, idea, or character” is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. I’m not sure I’m savvy enough to map out all the interweavings between Mitchell’s various books (On this front, I found Karen Schultz’s article for Vulture very helpful.), but I love the concept that the knowledge of one book will affect the reading of other books.
by Recorded Books
Jessica Ball = Holly Sykes
Leon Williams = Hugo Lamb
Colin Mace = Ed Brubeck
Steven Crossley = Crispin Hershey
Laurel Lefkow = Dr. Marinus
Anna Bentinck = Holly Sykes
On almost all fronts, this was a very engaging listen. The individual narrator performances were very strong. There was some uneven portrayal of various characters as we shift from narrator to narrator, most egregiously with Hugo Lamb and Holly Sykes. I chalk this up to production oversight in maintaining consistent vocal tones and regional accents in those cases where multiple narrators are voicing the same character. A difficult task, I’m sure, and not an issue that seriously distracts from the overall story.