2014 Booker Prize longlist: The Bone Clocks

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2014 Booker Prize longlist: The Bone Clocks

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jul 27, 2014, 9:11am

This thread is for discussion of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.


sep 10, 2014, 6:45am

This is the quite spoiler-free review.
Mitchell’s book consists of 6 parts, set between 1984 and the 2040s. All parts are written in first person narration, diary style with dates, and we have 5 different narrators. It won’t be surprising that the parts are connected. The book starts with the narration of Holly Sykes, a 15year old girl from Gravesend in England. After an argument with her mother she runs away from home and has some strange encounters which at that early point are unexplainable, but are slowly and almost too completely explained later in the book. The supernatural mystery element is strong in this first part which I really enjoyed. Holly was a character who came to life for me, from the first page on. For once not a super smart wunderkind, but a real teenager, with all the black-and-white thinking and the exaggerated reactions. I liked the narrators of parts 2 and 3 considerably less, and while #4 was basically unlikeable as well, there was a bitter-sweet element that made me enjoy that part. Part 5 is the longest and the one that explains everything. Part 6… the less said the better.

This would have been a quick read if I hadn’t slowed it down deliberately, knowing I had a week before the SL was out. Up to part 6 I enjoyed the book, but it never felt like “high literature” in any way and if I were a jury member I wouldn’t have put it on the SL either. The only other Mitchell I ever read was Cloud Atlas which I loved. I tried to read some of the others, but never even got through the test chapters. This book has some references to the older works which are even obvious for me who hasn’t read them, but that trick didn’t feel smart, it just felt unnecessary for me. I still don’t know where to place this book, I have no idea what was Mitchell’s intention. As I posted in a response to Peggy, this is “either a (wannabe) satirical approach to popular literature, a sad desperate try to be fully critically acclaimed again or just a lazily written work to keep a deadline. “

What annoyed me was that there were no surprise elements in part 5. The way it is constructed I had this list of elements in my head which might become important later. And they were then in part 5 all cleanly checked off that list.

Before part 6 I would have rated this with 3.7 or 3.8 as a fun read and because I loved Holly. With part 6 it just makes it to a weak 3.

Redigeret: sep 11, 2014, 8:58am

This is what I thought about the 5 main characters/ the 6 parts. Full of spoilers!!

Part 1:
Loved Holly’s voice. Loved the unexplainable encounters. The violence was shocking but fitting. When that part ended I was craving for more.

Part 2:
A real let-down until Holly turns up again. Hugo the empathy-free hedonist isn’t meant to be liked, but I found that first part also really boring. Like a take on Money and American Psycho, and I guess that’s what Mitchell intended. Those shallow early 90s… When Hugo struggles with his decision to get into that jeep or not, you just know that in the end his feelings for Holly will become important again.

Part 3:
Let’s be honest – Ed the good guy was the most annoying character in this whole book. He constantly blurts out what must be Mitchell’s own thoughts on the Middle East conflicts and UK/EU dependence on US politics. Not that I disagree with him, on the contrary, it was just really tiring, like reading a flow of old left-wing newspaper comments. This has all been said hundreds of times, and Mitchell repeats it once more.

But in the end I do have fond memories of this part because Ed learns to be honest with himself and thus with Holly. Both of them extend their focus and learn to respect the partner for what s/he has become. This was very realistic and it must have sprung from RL experience.

Part 4:
Contrary to Ed, Crispin didn’t succeed in getting his marriage through the storms. But in the course of this part which contains the longest period of time doing year jumps instead of day jumps he loses some of his bitterness and becomes “a better man” – thanks to Holly who seems to bring out the best in all men.

I know all those hits on the literature business were meant to be amusing. I as a reader was meant to think “oh, see, now Mitchell’s is taking a smart punch at the Booker Prize/ publishing houses/ bestseller deadline terror”. But I just didn’t care.

Part 5:
The voice of Marinus sounded fake from beginning to end of this part. Maybe because in all other parts Mitchell was able to dig into his own memories – obstinate teenager, hedonistic twen, commentator of actual politics, novel writer: that’s all in him and he just needed to activate those parts to make the narrators sound more or less genuine. But a centuries-old “returning atemporal” was clearly new, and so it reads. His voice sounds far too insecure and too "now" for someone who has seen centuries and lived countless lives. The flashbacks reminded me of those Buffy episodes with flashbacks to Angel's/ Spike's/ Drusilla's/ Darla's afterlives in the 1800s.

I enjoyed that part because it was fun (although the action scenes felt clumsy), because it finally explained everything I didn’t get in part 1, because there was so much of Holly and because I could feel oh-so-smart for correctly guessing each and every step when it came to the big culmination.

The last paragraphs were really nicely done and I wish the book would have ended there and then.

Part 6:
Can I say just horrible? And couldn’t it have ended without the life boat? I don't like dystopian anyway, but as much as I disliked the Jacobsen book for various reasons, his setting sounded far more believable.
Couldn’t Mitchell have at the very least left open if Marinus and Hugo made it out of that room? Let Holly and the kids sit by the sea, hoping for a boat to come and take them away? What are the odds that Iceland will stay a safe place anyway? I skipped many paragraphs, it was just so boring. I mean – I got it, we are all doomed. Why all the details? Did he have to get to 600 pages?

sep 10, 2014, 9:34am

I'm only reading in part 3, but I had forgotten that this was on the Booker Long List. How did it get there???? I can only think that the panel respected Mitchell's reputation because this is a long way from serious literature. After Nathalie's review, I don't even read in hope.

sep 11, 2014, 5:45am

It was one of the favorites for the SL early on and I wonder why - not because it's bad, but because as far as I know is was only published everywhere on September 2nd. So from where did it get the reputation? Or is it just that when a new Mitchell, Jacobson, Mantel, McEwan, etc. are out, people put automatically bets on them? I read so many comments of disappointment when it wasn't selected, so have all of those commentators finished it in the week since it was published?

Redigeret: sep 13, 2014, 7:26pm

Some of you might have been disappointed by David Mitchell not making the Booker Prize shortlist for The Bone Clocks--I definitely was!

If you're a Mitchell fan, you might appreciate this compiled bibliography I stumbled across: "Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know About David Mitchell" (http://reasonablymoderate.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/everything-you-could-possibly...).

Oh, and my fangirl review of The Bone Clocks is here.

sep 19, 2014, 7:53am

I enjoyed the book very much, although I found it too clever by half, and certainly not as profound as Cloud Atlas. I thought that there were a number of loose ends, and the ending makes me wonder whether there will be a sequel.

I hope that I didn't miss anything--can someone please tell me what the point was of the section entitled "Crispin Hershey's Lonely Planet?" The whole thing seemed to be a detour or comic relief, as it did not advance the plot. Who was Soleil Moore? Did she murder Crispin or did Richard Cheeseman?

Another question-
What is "the script" and "the counterscript?" How did Holly's Aunt know about it? How did Soleil Moore know? What is its origin?

sep 20, 2014, 2:09pm

>7 vwinsloe: All spoilers:
My impression was that section was just Mitchell's take on the publishing world. It didn't really move anything forward, you're right, except for the bit more we see of Holly.
I thought that Holly's aunt, just like Holly before she ran away, were just people with a seventh sense who accepted that sense. In Holly's case however that also meant she was a potential victim for the anchorites, therefore Marinus had to "close her third eye". I don't remember if the aunt knew sth about the script or if Jacko had just told her about it when he made his confession to her.
I totally forgot about Soleil Moore after part 4. Back then I thought she'd be one of the good ones, but as she doesn't turn up in part 5, and as Marinus' people wouldn't have killed an innocent, She must have been a third category.
And now that I think about it, Marinus didn't know the script either. So maybe there's just a category of mortal humans who can see the pre-written future, and Soleil Moore was the most fanatic of the bunch?
Maybe Mitchell has been contacted by some "crazy" people after Cloud Atlas who believed with his writing about a post-apocalyptical world, he might be one of them, so he added the Soleil bit, hoping people might understand that as an author he just invents stories and doesn't necessarily believe in his creations, so they'd leave him in peace in future?

Redigeret: sep 20, 2014, 3:01pm

>8 Deern:. Thanks. It doesn't sound like I missed anything. Since The Bone Clocks is so referential to Mitchell's other works, it will be interesting to see if he does expand upon it in the future and answer some of these questions. I found his prior books to be very tightly woven, and these hanging threads and loopholes seem uncharacteristic.

Yes, Marinus and Hugo did make it out of the room; Marinus tells Holly at the end of part six when he shows up to take the children. Hugo has forsaken immortality and has aged since the fall of the Anchorites.

sep 21, 2014, 4:40pm

>Re: What is "the script" and "the counterscript?"

I had that question, too, as I read. I don't think it's ever spelled out in The Bone Clocks. My guess: Since both groups of Atemporals are precognitive, they catch glimpses of the future of what will be. The Horologists call what they see the Script and the Anchorites call what they see as the Counterscript.

>Re: How did Holly's Aunt know about it?

I always assumed that Xi Lo-in-Jacko told Aunt Eilish. As for Soleil Moore, she was an odd one. Just an example of someone losing their mind after crossing paths with the Anchorites?

As for the prospects of a sequel, I did read somewhere that Mitchell might pick up the story twenty or so years after Iceland, though it probably wouldn't be a sequel-sequel but we'll surely see Marinus and Hugo Lamb again I'm sure.

Redigeret: sep 21, 2014, 6:34pm

>10 gendeg:. Thanks! I hope that we do see these characters again. I think that they were one of the book's strengths.

sep 24, 2014, 1:46pm

Oh! Found this interview with David Mitchell in The Atlantic's By Heart series (read here). Worth a read! He talks about his writing process, The Bone Clocks and the poem he has taped up to his work area.

Redigeret: sep 24, 2014, 2:17pm

>12 gendeg:. Thank you for posting that. The first part reminds me a lot of David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College (This is Water). Both authors have demonstrated an uncanny ability to write in kaleidoscopic patterns.

Redigeret: sep 28, 2014, 8:21pm

I think this is a very well-written book, and I enjoyed reading it. What bugs me is Mitchell is not certainly not calling this a 'fantasy' novel and yet the spine of the novel is purely made of fantastic elements. The fact that he didn't designed it to be a 'fantasy', he completely skipped the explanation of 'why' and 'how'. The reader should accept: Horologists are horologists & Anchorites are anchorites. In the end, everything is squeezed into a chapter, leaving too many loose ends!
Also the character: Hugo Lamb- do you really think he was realistic? I had the feeling that Mitchell was thinking this book can be another "Hollywood" material, and Hugo Lamb is like he is designed to be a movie character. He is purely evil and yet he can still fall in love with Holly- come on!

I don't know, maybe I am being unfair, in the end I totally enjoyed this book but still cannot get over the feeling that it's missing something! Not suprised that it couldn't make to the shortlist. There is so much going on in the book to win Man Booker :p

Redigeret: sep 30, 2014, 3:35pm

Denne meddelelse er blevet slettet af dens forfatter.

sep 30, 2014, 3:36pm

>13 vwinsloe: Yeah, there is some connection between the two writers! Never saw it before... "Kaleidoscopic" is so apt, especially for Mitchell.

Redigeret: sep 30, 2014, 3:55pm

I've been reading fellow readers' reviews, and the critical ones seem to be zeroing in on how they disliked the fantasy elements because they seemed silly or off-key, and how it was fitting that The Bone Clocks didn't make the Booker shortlist. In particular, the chapter covering the showdown between the Horologists and Anchorites seems to bother a lot of people.

We all know that Mitchell is a shrewdly intentional writer. Yes, that chapter in particular is over the top and full of hyperbole--but that's the point. I think critics sorely misread that chapter (looking at you NYTimes and Washington Post!).

Think about it: Mitchell drops lots of clues early on that he is making lighthearted fun of various fantasy conventions. Just the complete name of the baddies alone is hilarious: "The Anchorites of the Chapel of the Dusk of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Order of Sidelhorn Pass." --> Come on, people. Can you read that with a straight face? Do you think Mitchell came up with that with a straight face?

I personally think he wants us to read that chapter and smile and remember our childhoods perhaps. In countless interviews, Mitchell has mentioned how he loved Ursula K. Le Guin and J.R.R. Tolkien as a kid. The kid in him was immersed in those classic fantasy conventions. I'm not surprised we're finally seeing a book where Mitchell gets to play with those conventions full steam. His riffs are all in good-fun. He knows he's not a genre writer, so he can't write fantasy seriously … and so the infamous fifth chapter is the result.

If people took it too seriously and turned up their noses at his attempts, fine, but I personally think they've missed the amazing subtlety (or should I say 'subversiveness') of the book.

sep 30, 2014, 5:23pm

>17 gendeg: I think your reading of it is spot on, and we should be well set up for it in Section 4, which is clearly poking fun at everything high and literary. It stands to reason that he would follow that with a riff on genre. Perhaps this is why the final section felt so absolutely bleak to me, because I wasn't prepared for it by the light-heartedness of the previous two sections?

sep 30, 2014, 6:50pm

>18 sturlington: Very true. Tonally, the last part of The Bone Clocks was heavy and dark compared to the rest of the book. If Mitchell had introduced some foreshadowing of things to come in the 2020s timeline, it might have been less of a shock, e.g., some hinted at environmental crisis perhaps.

But despite the horrors of the Endarkment and all that, the book does end on a 'happy' note, no? I mean as far as Holly and her story go...Her grandkids are saved and that's really what she wants. There's that line in the book: “We live on, as long as there are people to live on in.”

My sense of things in that last section is that Mitchell was linking the book back to Cloud Atlas, setting up the bleakness of the world we see in the Meronym chapter. (Meronym is part of a group called Prescients; and Marinus with the remaining Horologists sets up the NGO called Prescience in Iceland.)