David Mitchell has a habit (I speak from experience of reading two whole books by him) of writing in a non-linear fashion. Time-jumps, narrative skips, perspective shifts – they’re all part of his style. This worked beyond comparison in “Cloud Atlas” because of the emotional resonance of the story. The absolute lack of limitations in his vision of the future was harrowing and beautiful. Unfortunately, this did not work so well in “The Bone Clocks”. Unpopular opinion here it seems, but I’d say that only 50% of this book was truly enjoyable.
The books chapters jump between perspectives and years. We travel from the 1980s to the late 2000s throughout the course of the novel, each time seeing the “Script” from a particular player in a group of connected souls. This book was sold to me as being science-fiction and there being an overarching theme of a global war being enacted upon beyond the limits of human consciousness. It all sounded very cool. However, we as the reader do not get to understand the details of this until the second to last chapter!
The characters are fantastic, there’s no doubt about that. The protagonist who’s story is sown into the fabric of each chapter is Holly Sykes. We grow up with her, see her start a family, and lose loved ones. We sympathise for her as a human being. Putting alongside this very human story, the hints and information about the “Atemporals” fighting a war against the “Anchorites” that we receive throughout the novel are confusing and opaque in comparison to the real story being unravelled.
There’s a lull in the middle of the book where we follow Crispin Hershey, author and pretentious jackass, through his despicable act of jealousy against a harsh reviewer and somehow Mitchell expects us to sympathise with him? The end of his chapter brings bad tidings for Crispin and there was 0% of me that felt bad for him. His chapter bored me. I didn’t care for him or his story or his many, many complaints.
Throughout the novel we are treated to hints and surreptitious whispers regarding the beings who are able to return to life after dying, thereby becoming immortal or “atemporal”. In any other book, I would have appreciated an author who didn’t underestimate his readers and left them to figure out the influx of information for themselves. I respect that when it is done well. But while I have a hard time putting my finger on it, I had a really hard time paying attention to the parts of this book that weren’t directly related to the undoubtedly very cool idea for this 100 year war. The explanation at the later part of the book felt rushed. I would have read an entire novel about this particular facet of the story! What an untapped plethora of storytelling!
Oddly enough, the last chapter, set in the dystopian and cynical future of our Earth reminded me of the last ten minutes of the movie The World’s End. I felt frustrated that this hadn’t been expanded upon. There was so much hinted at during this chapter, the roaming bands of militia who take advantage of the total lack of “Net” (internet) and security are called the Jackdaws. Why? China leaves an agreement with Europe to import manufactured goods, what are the politics behind this decision? A vague treasure from the past is a Cola flavoured rubber which one of the children does not even recognise as Coca-Cola hasn’t existed for his entire life. What fantastic ideas! It’s such a shame they’re only expanded on in one chapter.
I can’t wait for the day David Mitchell puts his powerful storytelling to a singular narrative, in this similar dystopian fashion. (Maybe I’m being unfair, I have yet to read his other novels). For a novel that started off so strong, I was truly disappointed with how quickly I lost interest. While it returned during the appearance of certain characters (Hugo Lamb is a prime example of how to write an unsympathetic character who you still are intrigued by as a reader) the long, drawn-out suffering of Crispin Hershey was the novel’s death knell for me.