The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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Let me preface this review (mild rant) with a fact about me: for the most part, I think books are like pizza, even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.

And I want you to remember this as you read on, because I’m about to get negative about a book that a lot of people loved, and I don’t want to make the internet mad.

The book I’m talking about it is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I coveted it for ages, and I finally braved the moths in my wallet to buy it, ready to devour on my holidays, only to be left feeling, well, a little cold.

I do feel sorry for Mitchell though, he was really up against some crazy high expectations. I freaking LOVED Cloud Atlas. Love, love, loved it, and I really enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, so Mitchell and I were having a pretty good run. Until Bone Clocks. There’s one point in the book when one of the characters says: “A book can’t be half fantasy, any more than a woman can be half pregnant”, and I thought, is he taking the piss? That’s exactly what this book is. And therein lies the crux of my gripe – for a lot of this book, I felt like Mitchell didn’t really know what he was writing. Some parts were all fantasy, some parts were completely without the fantastical, and the end result just felt a bit wishy-washy.

There were parts of the book that I really enjoyed. I think Mitchell is at his most vivid when he is describing scenes and situations that he has clearly experienced himself. Crispin Hershey’s section, which, coincidentally, contained very few fantastical elements, was great. He creates the world of writers, in particular the life of a writer on the festival circuit, so well. The feelings of being a ‘literary’ writer, slogging away at your craft only to be outsold monumentally by someone writing, as Hershey describes, “mystic-mumbo” all felt very real to me. I also loved this quote:

“A writer flirts with schizophrenia, nurtures synaesthesia and embraces obsessive-compulsive disorder…Writing novels worth reading will bugger up your mind, jeopardise your relationships and distend your life.” – woah.

Unfortunately, I felt that some of the fantasy sections went off the rails a bit, and they distracted me from the fact that there was a lot of really beautiful writing in there.

So tell me internet, how wrong am I?

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8 replies »

  1. I haven’t read anything by Mitchell and thought I would start with The Bone Clocks, as there’s been a ton of great reviews, but maybe I’ll start with Cloud Atlas instead! – ashley

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  2. Katherine, I completely agree about the fantasy elements! The structure of the book was so innovative, the characters well-written and you’re right – there was some truly beautiful writing going on here… but as for the fantasy, I felt that it was an unnecessary addition? And I couldn’t really understand what the point of it was. I don’t think it added much to the story itself, do you?

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    • I totally agree – at times I felt like the fantasy elements were just there so that the book could be something a bit ‘different’, but I don’t think they served the story at all.

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  3. It’s always so interesting to hear someone else’s take: I thought the Crispin Hershey section was the weakest overall, partly because it didn’t seem to do much to advance the fantasy plot. One thing I liked about Mitchell’s “half-fantasy” technique is that it really does rely on the human interest- you first learn about the existence of this other world through Holly’s experiences as a child, and then the loss of her little brother makes the human stakes clear.
    I definitely liked Black Swan Green for different reasons- it’s great to see Mitchell in a more realist, autobiographical mode. Are you a fan of his earlier stuff?

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    • It seems like the reasons you didn’t like the Crispin sections were the exact reasons I did – I didn’t want the fantasy plot to be advanced 😉
      I enjoyed Black Swan Green, but nowhere near as much as Cloud Atlas, and I really didn’t like Ghostwritten, which I know a lot of people really like.

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