Heralded all over the internet as the greatest thing since white bread and toilet paper (check out NPR's extensive coverage, The Bone Clocks is a big ol’ book, covering a big ol’ span of time, with a big ol’ cast of characters, all of which is handled competently. I got a little misty at the end, but having been finished with it for a couple of weeks now, nothing really sticks with me. Except the dog. I worry about the dog. The dog is probably why I got misty at the end. Animals always get me. On to the book.
The Bone Clocks switches POVs throughout, but working class Brit Holly Sykes is the character whose thread holds the whole thing together, and for what it’s worth, she’s likable enough. We meet Holly on page one, and then follow her as she meanders through about 60 years of her life, beginning in the mid-1980s and ending in 2043.
The defining moment of Holly’s life is when her little brother Jacko disappears on the day she runs away from home after quarreling with her mother about her boyfriend. She keeps running after finding out Jacko is gone, trying to both escape her pain and find answers to his disappearance.
The journey takes Holly all over the place; England, Wales, Switzerland, Cartagena, New York, Iceland, Ireland. I may have missed one or two. Along the way, she meets the rest of the folks who populate the book; a charming, handsome, psychopathic Cambridge student (whose end is so very disappointing); an egotistical, emotionally stunted, a-hole of a British writer (whose end is so very out there, and not in a good way); a war journalist addicted to the chaos of his job (whose end is sincerely sad, if inevitable); and a couple-three quasi-immortal souls (some of whom have endings and some of whom do not). We get child-murders, soul-stealings, portals to different worlds, and an elite, secret society out to save it all from a group of supermodel quasi-vampires.
Intertwined with all of this are the very real and personal stories of the people involved. Mitchell covers the gamut of human emotions, and these stories are frankly more compelling than all the science fiction-y stuff that seems to be the focus of the novel. I guess this is supposed to be the big deal about David Mitchell – that he combines the real and the meta-real and makes it work. Oooookay. There are actually a lot of writers who do that, writers who are considered straight up “genre” (that ugly stepchild) and, being considered so, receive far less respect or acknowledgement than Mitchell. Yet, for my money, those writers do this kind of thing in a far more satisfying way, and without tying everything up in a neat little package.
This was my first Mitchell book, so maybe I’m lacking some knowledge of what it is that is so terrific about him. His prose was good, sure. At times, it was beautiful, wondrous – but at times, it was schlocky, too. The story was original and well-paced – but too many of the plot- turning events hinge on circumstances all too convenient. And unlike some other novels, there was nothing in this one that was spectacular enough to balance the tedious prose and author tricks. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, and can overlook more than most, but even I have limits.
I can’t help but question the praise the book is receiving. I wonder, yet again, why and how writers like Mitchell become such media and critical darlings. I’m not dissing The Bone Clocks, really. Maybe my expectations were too high after all the hullabaloo, but I just found it sort of meh. It’s brain candy. Well-written brain candy with lots of $5 dollar words, but brain candy nonetheless. If that’s what you’re looking for, have at it. It’s fun. Still, I’m off to shave a star or two from my Goodreads rating. And I think some critics should broaden their reading horizons if they think The Bone Clocks is such a big deal.