Right out of the gate, let me say that I really enjoyed this book and that I was not a huge fan of the only other David Mitchell book I have read, Cloud Atlas. Mitchell is clearly an author who uses the structure of the story as a narrative tool. In Cloud Atlas, I found the russian nesting doll structure of story within story within story distracting. It felt more like a writer’s workshop exercise than a coherent whole. The Bone Clocks is also structured uniquely, but in this case the structure holds the story together and the result is feckin’ great novel.
The following synopsis is spoilerish, but not terribly so.
The Bone Clocks is told in six parts. Each part is narrated in the first person by a different character, except for the first and last which are both narrated by Holly Sykes. It is really her story being told, though it took me awhile to figure that out.
Part 1, A Hot Spell, takes place in England in 1984. Holly Sykes is a hot-headed rebellious 15 year old with an older boyfriend, a history of hearing voices and even seeing people that others can’t hear or see, and a strange younger brother who is wise beyond his years and listens to chinese language radio. Holly narrates this part of the novel and shares with us her curious past and troubled present.
Part 2, Myrrh is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume, takes us to Cambridge in 1991 where we meet Hugo Lamb. Lamb is a self absorbed asshole trying to climb from a solidly middle-upper class background into the upper crust of society. There is no one that he won’t step on, lie to, or steal from to improve his lot in life. While on a holiday ski trip he meets and falls for none other than our Holly Sykes. Shortly after meeting her, however, he gets an offer he can’t refuse from a secret society of dark magicians and so ends their brief and earnest affair.
Part 3, The Wedding Bash, takes us to England in the year 2004. This part of the story is told from the point of view of Ed Brubeck, Holly’s partner and father of her child. Ed was introduced to us in part 1. In 2004 he is a war reporter and is torn between doing what makes him feel most alive, reporting from war zones, and staying with Holly and their daughter, Aoife (which is pronounced eefay, or so says google).
Part 4, Crispin Hershey’s Lonely Planet, introduces a new character in our narrator Crispin Hershey. When we meet him in 2015, Crispin is an entitled jerk with an inflated sense of self brought on my his unbridled literary success. Now, however, his new novel is getting panned and his life is not going as it should. Since we saw Holly last, she has authored a book about her experiences receiving messages from the voices in her head. When her book outsells Hershey’s new novel, Hershey is dismissive and derisive. As their paths cross over the next few years, they develop a deep and abiding friendship despite this inauspicious beginning.
Part 5, An Horologists Laborynth, is the part in which we meet the voices in Holly’s head. Here, in 2025, the story really comes together. This part of the story is told by Dr. Iris Fenby aka Marinus. Through her narration, we learn about the war between the horologists and the anchorites and the lengths that either side will go to win.
Part 6, Sheep’s Head, is narrated again by Holly in 2043. Holly is an old woman living on an Irish Isle in a dismally bleak near future. She is the sole care giver for her granddaughter and adopted son. This all too realistic depiction of a world where technology fails and humanity returns to a primitive state.
Great story, great characters, great telling, and just enough weird shit to make it right up my alley.
This is my 57th book this year. Go here for a complete list. I’m always looking for suggestions.