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"The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell

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We meet lovely Holly Sykes in 1984 as a rebellious 15 year-old in Gravesend, a town in Kent fronting on the Thames. By novel’s end, she’s in her 70s, living in Ireland, with every reason in the world to be frantic and worried. The Bone Clocks centers on Holly and her adventure among some exceedingly unusual humans - humans who travel in time, have psychic and psycho-kinetic powers, and who cheat death for centuries.

Holly provides the focus, but author David Mitchell provides the pyrotechnics. He populates his novel with two opposing camps of warriors. One side “decants” human souls to renew their own life forces, while the other side tries to save people from this ugly fate. Holly is a marginal soldier in this war, because she was psychic as a child, and because one of the villains once loved her. She plays a critical role in the climactic battle, using a comically old-fashioned weapon in a psycho-battle royal among super-beings. You have to read it.

This author plays so stylishly, and fills our consciousness with such outlandish issues, that he continues to be a favorite. He does a very thorough job of setting up the conflict that we know is coming, and Holly’s everywoman role provides the reader a portal through which to witness this startling and vivid fight. Because of all this, I’m disappointed with the post-battle sequence, where Holly’s and her family’s history is wrapped up and we learn what happened to her ancient ally (but not her onetime lover). It’s set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia in the 2040s and Holly’s struggles see their final battle. Mitchell uses this framework not only to necessitate the book’s final conflict, but also, it seems to me, to wag his finger at the naughty modern world for its profligate and polluting ways.

This detracts from the book’s other delights. It feels tacked-on, a disjointed attempt to wrap up the story’s loose ends. As much as I agree with his sentiments, this seems a heavy-handed and unworthy try. The book is overlong as well - it could have done without the section on the lonely writer’s life altogether.

I do recommend this book, however, but with something less than my usual ardency where David Mitchell is concerned. I recommend it for its flight of fancy, which Mitchell handles at least as well anybody out there. His fantasy concepts and executions are second to none I have encountered. This book, however, could have big chunks excised and be much better.



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