The Bone Clocks is the sixth novel by British author, David Mitchell. After an argument with her mother and an upsetting encounter with her unfaithful boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes intends to get as far from Gravesend as possible. But Holly is no ordinary teen, and a chance meeting with a strange old woman on a jetty leads to a promise with repercussions many years later.
The story is split into six parts with different narrators: a rebellious teen; a self-centred, self-serving young man; a British journalist hooked on the excitement of the Middle East; an arrogant writer with a guilty secret; an Horologist in his fortieth life; and an elderly grandmother. The narratives of those whose lives intersect with Holly’s relate the major events of her life in a roundabout way while, at the same time, telling a thrilling tale of opposing forces and the inevitable battle that ensues.
The tale is told over some six decades and jumps from small town England to a Swiss ski resort, Iraq, Hay, Columbia, Western Australia, Shanghai, Iceland, New York, Canada and Ireland. Mitchell touches on a myriad of subjects: teen angst, infatuation and true love, career/family balance, literary critics and book fairs, the curse of privilege, socially conscious pop idols, the world’s reliance on technology and the pervasiveness of the internet.
His characters comment on: ageing (It’s not just that you get old and your kids leave; it’s that the world zooms away and leaves you hankering for whatever decade you felt most comfy in”); religion (“..if you could reason with religious people, there wouldn’t be any religious people” and “Prayer may be a placebo for the disease of helplessness, but placebos can make you feel better”); and technological advances (“Some magic is normality you’re not yet used to”).
He gives them words of wisdom (“People are icebergs, with just a bit you can see and loads you can’t” and “Mum said I’d learn betrayals came in various shapes and sizes, but to betray someone’s dream is the unforgiveable one”) and some lovely descriptive prose (“The English Channel’s biro-blue; the sky’s the blue of snooker-chalk.”)
His characters are appealing and readers may find themselves wondering for some time just whose intentions are pure and whose are not; some develop in depth and integrity as the story progresses. Holly is easy to admire, resourceful and engaging; her use of the rolling pin is definitely a laugh-out-loud moment.
This is a wonderfully crafted novel, with mysterious happenings building the intrigue until things begin to fall into place with the fifth narrative. Fans of Mitchell’s earlier novels will delight in (and quite probably be excited by) the connections (characters, locations, themes) with this one. Once again, Mitchell gives the reader a brilliant novel and it will be interesting to see what he does next.