The Bone Clocks

For what it’s worth, subremarks Oshima, I believe her.” (The Bone Clocks by David Michel)

The Bone Clocks CoverThe Bone Clocks is a book that keeps reminding me of other books – both for its successes and its failures. It reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 in its compelling weirdness, its dropping-you-in-the-middle-of-things, its slowly-revealed plotline. It also reminds me of Saunders’ The Tenth of December for how it subspeaks, subreminds, subwarns, etc, to create a world through new language.

However, The Bone Clocks also finds itself in less sought-after company. Like Neil Stephenson’s bulky Reamde, it seems that Mitchell’s editor lacked the gumption to cut what needed to be cut from this wordy novel. Mitchell’s love of details, epic plotlines, and secondary characters obscures what is truly special about this book. Additionally, The Bone Clocks follows the path of books whose endings don’t match their promising beginnings. Like the deeply disappointing last few chapters of Bryson’s At Home, David Mitchell insists on prophesying a near-future, pre-apocalyptic world – thus turning a realistic/fantasy genre bending novel into a shocking compendium of scare tactics.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBR – Avoid
Length: 624
Ending: Deeply disappointing and depressing
Incidental Learning: 1980’s England
Further Reading: I am curious about Mitchell’s much-lauded Cloud Atlases – did I simply read the wrong Mitchell?


5 thoughts on “The Bone Clocks

  1. I actually liked The Bone Clocks. I definitely agree it has serious flaws and turn-offs, but they’re also part of its charm. Cloud Atlas is great- a little more cosmic in perspective, fewer explicitly fantastic elements. I thought Bone Clocks was more successful than Cloud Atlas in a lot of ways- especially bringing the human element to life.

    • I loved the first 90% of The Bone Clocks for its weirdness, language, characters… which is what made the end especially disappointing. After I wrote this post, I pinpointed a bit more precisely why the ending grated on me so.
      (spoiler alert)
      Namely, I feel like the end rendered the entire plot meaningless. What was the point of sacrificing all of the ‘good guys’ in a war against the ‘bad guys’ over the death of a few people when, a few years later, the WHOLE WORLD dies? Since the good guys can see the future, it’s impossible not to think that they should’ve focused their energies on saving everyone instead of saving a few people (who probably died anyway in one of the future’s ‘mega storms’ or mobs).
      If David Mitchell intended to make the endeavors of the ‘good guys’ seem so foolish and insignificant, then he also intended to make the readers feel foolish and insignificant for supporting the ‘good guys’ in their futile attempt at justice. And perhaps we are. Perhaps, in the face of a world that is about to end (according to Mitchell), we’re worrying about the wrong thing when we try to right small-scale injustices. But I don’t believe this, and I don’t appreciate it when writers abuse the emotions of readers in this way.

      Does that make sense?

      • Totally makes sense! Interesting that I thought the last chapter made for a really perfect coda: after the big supernatural showdown, we’re thrown back into a world of really basic human concerns- food, shelter, family. I found the climate-change/peak-oil apocalypse scenario sobering and really well executed considering how topical it all is. But the last chapter worked for me in the novel by making concrete that level of very basic “wanting a better life for [your] grandkids” kind of human affection- even as it recasts the idea of a global struggle between good and evil, life and death, in more “realistic” human terms. Does that make sense?

  2. That definitely makes sense, and I do like how that reading gives the book symmetry and context. Yet, it still makes me feel like Mitchell’s saying genre fiction (good vs. evil) isn’t good enough – that in order for it to mean something, the author has to bring the story back to reality. That, in the face of basic human need (and a potential apocalyptic future), good vs. evil doesn’t mean much. It may be a personal preference, but I just don’t like being slapped in the face with that kind of realism, especially after having indulged in such wonderful and slowly-realized semi-fantasy for 600 pages.

    The more we talk about this, the more I’m starting to see the merits of what he did.

  3. Pingback: Book Lion Birthday Awards – Year 5 | Book Lion

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