Friday, January 23, 2015

Contemporary Fiction: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I was already on the fence about attempting to read David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks before I saw it had been nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for 2014. Once I found it at the school library, I knew it would make it into the blog eventually, even as I was a little scared as well as excited to attempt my first Mitchell novel.

The Situation: It is 1984 and fifteen year-old Holly Sykes has run away from home. Although she doesn't have a plan anywhere to run, especially after finding out that the man who she only recently professed her love to doesn't necessarily feel the same way in return, she refuses to endure anymore of her mother's treatment. It is a shocking and hurtful literal slap to the face that wakes Holly up to her inability to live in her own home any longer. She realizes she'll be leaving behind not only her mother and father, but also her younger siblings Sharon, and the odd but always incredibly loveable Jacko. Before she even steps out of the house, it seems that Jacko already knows Holly will never be returning, and hands her a picture of a maze, or labyrinth, and makes her promise that she'll memorize the way out of it. Holly promises, and sets out on an adventure that she doesn't realize will effect her entire life, and those around her.

The Problem: Holly isn't the only one who goes missing that day. Just a few days after she has successfully disappeared and procured a temporary job at a strawberry farm, Holly is found by a school friend and learns that Jacko has disappeared. It is a disappearance that causes Holly to return home, and also spend the rest of her life looking for her brother. As the decades roll by, Holly will come across key people in her life that are also somehow connected to Jacko's disappearance, and it won't be until her mid-fifties that she finally begins to receive some answers as to what happened that fateful day, and what is still going on now. Turns out both she and her little brother had gained the attention of both sides of an ongoing epic war. And while Holly would like to think that everything hinged on her decision to run away all those years ago, she will eventually learn that things just aren't that simple.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a novel that I decided to stick with the always far too vague and general "contemporary" heading, but I think could also be labeled as science fiction given a fairly convincing argument. The story begins in 1984, and doesn't conclude until the not-so-distant future of 2043. But just going into the future isn't what could push this book into the heading of science fiction. The entire story revolves around an ongoing battle between two different types of seemingly immortal entities. There are those that are endlessly reincarnated into a different body as their old bodies die, and then there are those who consume souls in order to keep living. Just having these two types of beings in the story would be enough, but the way they battle with each other is really what gives the book it's epic feel. The Bone Clocks could also be considered a coming-of-age story, as it begins during Holly's teen years and continues well into her old age, although there are entire sections of time that are skipped over. And while there are several different first-person narrators throughout the length of the story, Holly always features heavily as the novel's central figure. Everything seems to happen either because of her, or around her, and she finds herself involved whether she wants to be or not.

My Verdict: This book is incredibly entertaining, but also exhausting. And the ending is a slow painful crawl. Actually, my main issue with the book is not necessarily its length - although it is a door stop at 600+ pages - but for how long the ending drags. If the book ended about 50 pages earlier than it did I probably would have given it a higher rating on Goodreads. Instead of ending it at a point that, at least to me, felt fairly natural, Mitchell extends it for an entire extra section, seemingly for the purpose of asserting that there is no God, religion is a placebo, and we are destroying the earth to a point that will cause us to live as if the zombie apocalypse has indeed happened, only it doesn't happen, by the 2040s. But I must say that everything up to that point is actually pretty awesome, and I see why there was such a buzz about Mitchell coming out with a new novel.

Favorite Moment: When Holly asserts to an atemporal being that she'll regret threatening Holly's family. While things look bleak at the moment of the assertion, somehow it comforted me into believing that this was the beginning of the end of the war.

Favorite Character: While Holly turns out to be a terrific heroine, despite the beginning where she is mostly a headstrong teenager who thinks she knows everything, I pick the being Marinus, who fights on the good side of the war, and makes appearances in key points in Holly's life.

Recommended Reading: As I said, this was my first Mitchell novel, so I can't in good faith recommend another one. So instead I will recommend Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. These are two very different novels with very little in common with one another, but there were elements of Mitchell's novel that reminded me of events in Angelmaker

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