The Bone Clocks David Mitchell

20819685Written in six ascending time periods, 1984, 1991, 2004, 2015, 2035, 2043, the book covers the influential moments in the life of Holly Sykes as she intersects with various characters, some with apparent supernatural powers, some with the power of second sight, and some that are entirely ordinary.
In 1984, at age 15, Holly runs away after her mother strikes her in an argument over her relationship with Vin, an older young man of 24. When she arrives at his apartment, she discovers that he has betrayed her, but making it especially worse is that it is with the girl she thought of as her best friend. It is also on this same day that her exceptional 7 year old brother, Jacko, implores her to study a labyrinth he provides for her. Later that day, he disappears, never to be seen again.
In her youth, Holly used to hear the voices of what she called “radio people”, one of whom was Misss Constantin, who was part of a group called Anchorites. A Dr. Marinus, part of a group called Horologists, attempted a successful cure and she ceased hearing the voices for almost a decade. After her brother disappeared, they returned from time to time.
The Horologists and the Anchorites are at opposite ends of the spectrum and are in greater and greater conflict with each other as the book advances. Anchorites need to lure and sacrifice willing human subjects in order for them to live outside time and cease to age; they then sojourn in the body that they capture. Horologists return to life with their memories, in another body, after 49 days of death without harm to anyone. They do not know where or whom they will be, but they do know that they alternate from a male to a female body in each new life. They are atemporal, out of time. Normal humans are bone clocks since they live within a time frame.
Over a period of 6 decades, the book exposes the gradual decay of our way of life due to the world’s excessive use of natural resources, the total disregard for the environment, the uncontrolled spread of deadly diseases, conflicts and wars throughout the world, the failure of the net upon which we have become dependent, and the abuse of power by our leaders. Oddly enough, the book is prescient in that it mentions a deadly Ebola outbreak which spread beyond the borders of Africa. This has now occurred for the first time ever, in the United States, but had not occurred when the book was written.
The author’s mastery of language is displayed in his character development with one or another of them reappearing in each section, making his/her special mark, and in his descriptions of events, injecting humor where possible and tragedy at other times. In addition, there are times when the narrative takes on the appearance of the absurd, but the reader will work through that in this book that is simply difficult to put down once begun.
Holly begins as a rebellious teen, leaves school, holds various jobs, develops a disappointing relationship with Hugo Lamb, takes on a partner, Ed Brubeck, a war correspondent with whom she becomes the parent of a child, eventually following his suggestion to tell the world about her “radio people” and so becoming a famous author traveling around the world to promote her work. She finds herself in many unlikely situations, meeting and interacting with many unusual characters. Finally, entering her seventh decade, after many a trauma, after the world has descended into chaos, she becomes the guardian of her daughter Aoife’s child when she and her husband are killed in an airline accident. A year later she adopts another child who washes up upon the Irish shore after his escape boat is attacked and overturned.
Throughout her life, Holly was often plagued by psychic, extra intuitive episodes of clairvoyance for which she has no explanation at the time they occur, but they always play out, in fact, at some point in her life. Each section of the tale seems to have a language and personality of its own, but the six distinct periods of her life are knitted together effectively. The book moves along quickly, although it is quite lengthy, and sometimes transcends credibility. Still, I was compelled to keep on reading by this author who has an ingenious way with words.
In the end, in spite of all the destruction and all the catastrophes that have occurred and will continue to, the reader is left with a glimmer of hope that humanity will survive in Iceland, through the blending of cultures and values in a place that can tolerate such an endeavor, with a population that is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to succeed.
At the end of the book, Marinus is referred to as the youthful ancient Marinus which immediately brought to mind “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in which human transgressions, deliverance and rescue are explored and which are also major themes in “The Bone Clocks”.


About omasvoice

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