“The Bone Clocks”, by David Mitchell, is a massive, well-constructed world, in which the story unfolds through the voices of several fascinating characters. Far from a regular historical or family saga, however, these characters are all either knowingly or unknowingly involved in a secret war taking place between two groups of immortals, one of which kills humans that have psychic abilities in order to maintain their immortality. Like Michel Faber’s “Under The Skin”, it’s wonderfully literary sci-fi, and I found myself dog-earing pages with well-turned phrases and great dialogue. There are many choice quotes collected on Goodreads, including, “There’s a link between bigotry and bad spelling.”
“The Bone Clocks” opens in 1980s England with the highly likeable (and latent psychic) Holly Sykes, running away after her good-for-nothing boyfriend dumps her for her best friend. I’m not normally a fan of books that leap from one character’s POV to many others, and I really didn’t want to leave Holly behind, but luckily she plays a major role throughout the story, even if we don’t get her own voice again for quite awhile. Holly’s runaway attempt is cut short by her little brother Jacko’s sudden disappearance, but not before she meets an odd woman named Esther Little, who makes a mysterious request for asylum.
Next we meet Hugo Lamb, a sociopathic rich kid at Cambridge in the ‘90s, who falls uncharacteristically in love with Holly (now a bartender), only to give her up when he is contacted by a seductive group of individuals who offer him immortality, at a price. Fast forward again to the future, the mid 2000s, and we meet arrogant Crispin Hershey, former bestselling author, who takes devastating revenge on a harsh critic – meanwhile befriending Holly, whose psychic abilities are now in full swing, and the subject of her own successful book. Somewhere in there, we also get Ed Brubeck, Holly’s war journalist boyfriend; he and Crispin really don’t play huge roles in moving the story forward, so it is a little odd that Mitchell spends as much time on them as he does, but luckily, they are very absorbing characters.
Holly, Ed and Crispin all have interactions with the predatory group of immortals (the Anchorites), only to have their memories erased by them afterwards, giving the reader a slow understanding of things long before Holly finally does, which comes after we get the POV of Marinus, one of the benevolent immortals (the Horologists). The fascinating Marinus, with his/her many lives and histories, becomes the key to connecting the story lines and revealing Holly’s role in the war between the Horologists and the Anchorites.
On top of all this, Mitchell gives us chilling, very convincing views of the near future – we stay with Holly until 2043 – as well as a detailed, intense take on the war in Iraq, thanks to Ed Brubeck’s chapters. The latter sounds like it must come way out of left field, considering the rest of the story, but Mitchell has a powerful ability to tie such things all together, and connecting details slowly click into place throughout the story. Even long after the climax in the immortal’s story line, Holly’s story remains tense and gripping, right up to the last page.
There are a couple strands of plot that don’t get completely wrapped up, and this could be because Mitchell likes to re-use his characters in different novels; Hugo and Marinus have apparently appeared in others. It could also mean there may be a sequel one day, which I would happily read. There is certainly enough room for one in the complex world of “The Bone Clocks”.
Image via Random House Books website