6 Hints about David Mitchell’s “The Bone Clocks”

Forty years of practicing psychotherapy have left me somewhat immune to the bittersweet tragicomedies of life. At least, I find myself these days just a bit short on tears. But the last ten pages of David Mitchell’s new book, The Bone Clocks, turned me back into a weeper.
Bone Clocks.Cover.

The book is too big and too complex a story for easy summary. Also, it’s too damn good. Like great music or a superb dinner, The Bone Clocks needs to be encountered, wrestled with, and savored. Not munched like Cliff Notes.

Let me, however, offer a few hints about what you’re in for when you read Mitchell’s masterpiece:

Hint 1: The book tackles enormous themes, with nary a didactic word or explanatory passage. Despite the themes’ depth, Mitchell shows everything though the actions and interactions of compelling flesh-and-blood characters, drawn with realism, emotion, and precision. What are the themes? Here are a few (there are more): Try life and death (and life after death). Try climate change and its impact on civilization. How about the birth, death, and rebirth of human society? Or the possibility of mental evolution to levels far beyond ours?

Hint 2: There are at least four, count ‘em, four, protagonists – Holly Sykes, Hugo Lamb, Marinus, and Crispin Hershey – and each is simultaneously an antagonist to at least one of the others. (And that doesn’t even count the actual bad-guy and bad-gal antagonists in the plot.) Even the most dreadful characters seduced my reluctant sympathy – and I fell in love with Holly Sykes by page 10.

Hint 3: The four protagonists’ stories are vivid and compelling near-novellas in their own right, but each is entirely, grippingly, and integrally woven into the fabric of the whole novel. Everything — and I mean everything! — coheres and contributes to an inexorable march to the final climax. You can see it all at the climax. Although the enemies seem alien at first, we realize by the book’s end that, in Pogo’s immortal words, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Pogo1.Met enemy

Hint 4: Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law is Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Bone Clocks can be considered magical realism. Clarke’s law holds true, though, because all the magical elements of the story turn out to be kin to the “miraculous” actions of some advanced Tibetan Buddhist lamas, doing “magical” things with their profound mental training. To me, it would be more accurate to call Mitchell’s style technological realism, if you’re willing to consider sophisticated mental abilities to be like “sufficiently advanced technologies.” It’s a semantic stretch, but when you read the book, you’ll get it. 

Hint 5: Despite having 624 pages, the novel appears to end at page 545! Then, without warning, we’re in an entirely (well, not entirely) new story, set eighteen years later! A seventy-nine page epilogue? Nope. For twenty or more of those pages, I kept asking “Where the hell is he going with this?” Finally, befuddled once again (Mitchell’s story-telling is nothing if not delightfully befuddling), I gave up and let myself sink into this last masterful tale – and that’s when the tears started.

Hint 6: The ending, specifically the last seven pages, is perhaps the most bittersweet – or perhaps I should write, sorrowful-uplifting – prose I have ever read. To my mind, the very last line is nothing short of a masterpiece.

That ending and that last line are what opened me to weep deeply, to let the sorrow and the hope Mitchell portrays so profoundly enter my consciousness fully. I could let the anguish and the aspiration of Holly Sykes – like those of so many clients over forty years – take hold of my emotions as deeply as almost any book has ever done. And so The Bone Clocks proved redemptive – at least for me. I hope it will for you as well.

Author: Bill Percy

I'm an award-winning Idaho author, my "second chapter" after 40 years as a Minnesota psychologist.During my Minnesota years, I wrote for and taught graduate students, switching to fiction in 2009. My 2014 novel, "Climbing the Coliseum," was a Finalist for the 2014 Foreword Reviews' Book of the Year Award, and in 2017 won the "Distinguished Favorite" (second-place) award in the New York City BIG BOOK Awards. My second novel, "Nobody's Safe Here," won the Distinguished Favorite award in the two separate competitions: The Independent Press Award contest and the New York City BIG BOOK Award, both in 2017. "The Bishop Burned the Lady" won the Indendent Press Award's Distinguished Favorite. Check out my website at www.BillPercyBooks.com.

11 thoughts on “6 Hints about David Mitchell’s “The Bone Clocks””

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      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found what you’re looking for here. Sadly, I am not sure what your questions mean: “Bottom line” for what, exactly? And “sure concerning the supply” of what, exactly?

      Bill

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      I’m rather new to this too. I published Climbing the Coliseum last June (2014), and am learning the ropes of marketing it. Another book should be ready for publication at the end of this year. (If interested, you can check my website to see works in progress and other stuff — http://www.billpercybooks.com.) I chose a WordPress blog but it’s managed through GoDaddy.com. I did that for ease of set-up (I talked with a help desk person who had me up and running in 45 minutes). However, I have friends who did their own through free WordPress and are quite happy with it. It really is confusing — not just for blogs, but for all the varieties of social media that writers can use and the vast marketplace of independent publishers, free-lance editors, free-lance marketers . . . and on and on. It’s very easy to pour a lot of money down a rabbit hole in this environment. I’m putting together a list of solid, non-nonsense, helpful sites having to do with many aspects of the self-publishing world. I hope to have it up on this blog and on my website within a month or so, so check back. Also, I’ve been really helped by subscribing to Writers’ Digest. I’ve learned to avoid all their many pitches for me to buy things, but they have a line of “how to” books that actually have helped me make sense of the array of choices to be faced.

      For this blog, I aim to post content about every ten to twelve days. I hope you’ll visit again!

      Bill

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