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The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell Book Review

Ever since I finished reading David Mitchell’s Slade House I was pretty interested to see what was the book that preceded it. So I picked up The Bone Clocks and while I can’t say I personally liked it, it wasn’t bad either.

At start, the book appeared to be following the life of 15 year old Holly Sykes who decides to run away from home after her mother forbade her to see her much older boyfriend, Vinnie. In her teenage mind, the love she carries for Vinnie is supreme and no parent would be able to tell her otherwise or force her to go to school. Her younger brother, who had always been a bit weird, is the only one who changes the “mood” of this teenage runnaway theme by giving Holly a labyrinth to learn

“Take it,” he tells me. “It’s diabolical.”

“It doesn’t look all that bad to me.”

“ ‘Diabolical’ means ‘satanic,’ sis.”

“Why’s your maze so satanic, then?”

“The Dusk follows you as you go through it. If it touches you, you cease to exist, so one wrong turn down a dead end, that’s the end of you. That’s why you have to learn the labyrinth by heart.”

Christ, I don’t half have a freaky little brother.

Now, you know me, the moment I see a labyrinth my eyes lit up. There’s the one in the Overlook Hotel in the Shining, there’s the Minotaur theme that seems to follow all Greek Tragedies and even Rose Madder. And there’s House of Leaves * Mark Z. Danielewski

Unfortunately, David Mitchell doesn’t do a lot more from the first inkling to something dark until much later in the novel, and when he does expose an alternate reality, he does so in a very confusing manner, to a point I wanted to abandon the book. The story is all over the place and I was completely lost regarding character progression, relationships, and the overall storyline. The sections pertaining to the immortals was one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever experienced. I had waded my way through 500 something pages and was meandering about trying to connect the dots.

I kept reading hoping that the proceeding pages would somehow make sense. Soon, I found myself skimming as I was oh, so tired. My feelings became one of “who cares.” After 600 pages I was still as confused as before. I may have missed a few parts, due to skimming, but in the end, nothing offered closure of any kind.

It does have its good points, mostly in the first three chapters. The story of Holly – teenage runnaway picking strawberries at a farm – is quite well made. There is a scene where another girl who ran away from her abusive family is telling Holly to go back home if she has a family that loves her as there are hardships on the streets much tougher than what she imagines and there’s no work for minors unless it’s illegal.

There’s a hidden “coming of age” story which is quite well made. There’s a wedding, some Irish custom – and all in all it would have been a decent read if it wasn’t peppered with inter-dimensional guilds looking to kill some people for obscure reasons.

Killed a 250-year-old Atemporal Carnivore with a fifty-dollar kitchen implement, after putting on a fine impersonation of a sniveling, scared middle-aged woman. “The sniveling part was easy.” The Dusk’s coming, Holly. Which way now? She pulls herself together. “A bit of light, please.” I half egress and glow, illuminating the narrow crossroads where the woman lying dead or dying ambushed us. “Which way were we going?”

Really – which way were they really going?

To be clear, The Bone Clocks is not a largely compelling yet imperfect work of literary or even speculative fiction; it is instead a fundamentally flawed patchwork that collectively crumbles under its own overwrought weight. If it had been written by any other author, I would likely award it three reluctant stars. But I will not condescend to David Mitchell with artificially inflated ratings that his novels do not deserve.

Eh. Here’s my favourite quote from the book (which is the only reason it got marked a 1.5/5):

“What is marriage, exactly, and how could we explain it to an alien anthropologist? It’s more than just a living arrangement. Is it an endeavor, a pledge, a symbol, or an affirmation? Is it a span of shared years and shared experiences? A vessel for intimacy? Or does the old joke nail it best? ‘If love is an enchanted dream, then marriage is an alarm clock.’ ” Mostly male laughter in the congregation is shushed. “Maybe marriage is difficult to define because of its array of shapes and sizes. Marriage differs between cultures, tribes, centuries, decades even, generations, and—our alien researcher might add—planets. Marriages can be dynastic, common-law, secret, shotgun, arranged, or, as is the case with Sharon and Peter”—she beams at the bride in her dress and the groom in his morning suit—“brought into being by love and respect. Any given marriage can—and will—go through rocky patches and calmer periods. Even within a single day, a marriage can be stormy in the morning, yet by evening turn calm and blue …”


DAVID MITCHELL is the award-winning and bestselling author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream , and Ghostwritten . Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump . He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.