This book is shockingly bad.
'Shockingly', because David Mitchell is the author of some of the most imaginative, perfectly written, innovative novels of this century.
Cloud Atlas, in particular, is unique in its range of settings and styles and the way that it combines stories spread over centuries or millennia into a coherent narrative. The scope and breadth of imaginative power in this book is like nothing else ever written.
The Bone Clocks is, at times, similar in structure to previous Mitchell novels. The story is told in sections, spread over decades from the seventies to a dystopian 2032. The sections are all narrated from a different point of view, and so the voice and style changes from section to section.
Holly Sykes is the central character, a rebellious teenager in the first section growing up in nineteen seventies
, with an Irish mother and an
English father. She hears voices, what she calls her 'radio people', that give
her some insight into what will happen in the future. Kent
Holly is a constant in the other narratives, though she is often a marginal character in the stories told by other characters, who are a brief lover of hers, a writer that eventually becomes her friend, and also her eventual husband.
The thing binding the stories together - apart from Holly - is a narrative about a great, centuries-long war between a group of 'carnivores', - The Anchorites - who eat people's souls in order to prolong their immortality, and another group of immortals - the Horologists - who are reincarnated into another body every time they die.
This is where the novel goes completely off the rails. Firstly the simplistic nature of the conflict - Good Horologists v Bad Carnivores - makes it read like a book for children. There is no moral ambiguity, no complexity at all.
Secondly, the whole story of this great war is unceasingly silly. All of the ideas are stolen from various sources, TV shows like Doctor Who and Charmed and Star Trek, from religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, from comics and sci-fi and a thousand books and films and programmes.
Yet the way Mitchell uses them leaches all of the wonder and fascination from the fantasy and sci-fi genres and reduces the whole concept to bland, random, silly ideas.
He invents a whole vocabulary to explain the phenomena he describes, psychosoteric voltage, suasion, subsaying, an Act of hiatus, as if what he was talking about was unique, innovative, clever. The truth is that all he describes are simple fantasy tropes - such as telepathy, one person taking over another's mind, ESP, or psychic abilities - familiar to anyone who has ever watched Buffy or read science fiction or seen Game of Thrones in the last twenty years.
There are parts in the second last section, narrated by a Horologist called Marinus, that are frankly laughable. Where he describes the origin of the dark side of the immortals, and then the battle that takes place, it would have been rejected by Doctor Who as over-complicated, derivative and insipid.
As an example of the verbose nonsense that the writer comes up with in this section we read Marinus explaining why it is a bad idea to follow a particular course of psychosoteric action..
“One, it’s against the Codex. Two, she is chakra-latent, so she may react badly to scansion and redact her own memories,”
The book is most disappointing because of who wrote it. David Mitchell has shown such a powerful imagination in the past that the failure of this book is a big letdown. His strength is his originality, and yet The Bone Clocks is a rattlebag of borrowed and stolen ideas, with all of the fascination wrung out.