The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell.
Our most recent book club pick was the new novel by the author of Cloud Atlas. It’s a similar setup, in that the book is divided into separate stories/sections with overlapping details. But it’s more condensed here, as all of the sections take place within one normal human lifetime, rather than spanning centuries. The human in question is Holly Sykes, who when we first meet her is a young Brit with some psychic sensitivity and plenty of teenage angsty rebellion. She runs away from home and unknowingly straight into the midst of a war between Immortal beings. The Horologists are good (naturally immortal) and the Anchorites are bad (steal life from others) and their age-old feud is coming to head. But, as their war is for the most part a hidden affair, the book plays out against the turmoil and events of Holly’s life – love, marriage, motherhood, illness, etc. – with Immortals popping up every now and then.
I’m of two minds about this book. It’s beautifully written prose, and the characters are fully fleshed out. The story of Holly’s life, told from all angles, kept me interested and reading. And I like that this particular timeline meant the book mixed several genres. It ranges from Europe to the Middle East to America, from the 1980’s to the 2040’s, so you get a nice slice of nostalgic historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and future dystopia.But. The fantasy element of this book didn’t really work for me. Or rather, it could’ve worked, but it was too under-explored to have the effect I think the author was going for. The missing part for me was that the Immortals didn’t seem to really matter, on a larger scale. Both groups numbered less than 20 in the whole world, and I just didn’t feel there was anything really riding on which side won the war. The writing seemed to be trying to give the war such gravitas and weight, but I just didn’t buy it. It didn’t feel like the world at large would really be affected by either outcome.
Also, the how of their immortality was never fully explained, which was a bit unsatisfying for me. We get some vague ‘they’re born like this’ and ‘they do this ritual’ for each respective side, but we never find out why they are born like that (evolution? genetic experiments? divine intervention? what?) or how the ritual was discovered/developed in the first place. If you want me as a reader to buy into the setup that this war is important, then you need to give me a fuller history of the two sides, and have some actual, world-changing consequences for the bad guys winning.
All that said, I did still enjoy reading this. If you’re a fan of Mitchell’s other work, you will probably like this book, too.