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The Bone Clocks


The Bone Clocks

THE BONE CLOCKS by David Mitchell is one of those wonderful novels that remind us that big literature can also be playful and a bit wacky, too. It is the story, spanning 59 years, of the end of a secret war between the Horologists and their soul-eating enemies, the Anchorites --- a war that draws in a group of inter-related characters, taking them and readers alike on a rollercoaster of a plot.

First introduced is 15-year-old Holly Sykes, an English girl in the throes of her first sexual relationship. Her love for her older boyfriend, Vinny Costello, is destroyed when she finds him in bed with her best friend. Her plans to run away and live with him become plans to just run away, but her escape brings her face to face with forces she has always been vaguely aware of. When she was younger, Holly heard the voices of what she called the “Radio People” and was visited by a strange apparition of a woman who called herself Miss Constantin. Those voices and visits ended after a trip to see Dr. Marinus, who seemed to simply touch Holly's forehead.

"THE BONE CLOCKS is a mesmerizing, inventive and hefty novel.... an entertaining tour through the complicated labyrinths of love, affection, desire and loyalty."

But, on the road to a berry-picking farm she heard about from charming schoolmate Ed Brubeck, Holly meets a mysterious old woman named Esther Little and loses hours of memory after hitchhiking with a young couple who are later found murdered. After a brief sojourn at the farm, Ed arrives to retrieve Holly because her little brother, Jacko, has gone missing, too. These events pull Holly into the realm of the Horologists and Anchorites, and will effect the course of her life for the next six decades.

The Horologists are a small group of atemporals --- those who are unwittingly reborn into new bodies 49 days after they die. This cycle happens until they “die-die” and move into the Dust, never to be reborn. Pooling their collective wisdom and compassion, the Horologists fight against the Anchorites, a group of metaphysical carnivores who destroy others to obtain something close to immortality. A sociopathic young man named Hugo Lamb, bitter writer Crispin Hershey, Holly and Jacko, as well as Holly's husband, Ed Brubeck, and their daughter and granddaughter, all will be pulled into the second stage of the war between these two powerful but shadowy groups fighting for nothing less than life and death.

From teenage angst above an English pub to journalism in international war zones, from a Swiss ski resort to the cutthroat writer's publicity circuit, and from an esoteric world just beyond ours to a global apocalypse arriving on the Irish coast, THE BONE CLOCKS is a vast and dizzying novel. Mitchell successfully weaves together what at first seem like disparate strands of the story, so that all the relationships take on deeper and richer meaning by the conclusion. He also successfully blends many themes and styles as he puts realistic characters (flaws and all) into a fantastical situation complete with its own jargon.

THE BONE CLOCKS is a mesmerizing, inventive and hefty novel. At times joyful but with harrowing moments, Mitchell's prose is skilled and beautiful, if sometimes rather wordy. He is comfortable mixing the real with the fantasy and ending with a doomsday vision of the world, though that may leave some readers at a loss. It may be better to worry less about what it all means and instead enjoy the fun and unforgettable tale of the likable Holly Sykes and the bizarre truths to which she finds herself a party. If nothing else, THE BONE CLOCKS is an entertaining tour through the complicated labyrinths of love, affection, desire and loyalty.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 19, 2014

The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell