Earlier this summer, during a search through the blogosphere for some additional books to buy, I found myself on the British website Telegraph, perusing their list of the ‘Best Books of 2014.’ I noticed David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks had a rather eye-catching cover, and, on this alone, decided to do some further research. When I went on Amazon to get an idea of the book’s plot, I was not only disappointed at the lack of information, but also at the lackluster American cover, dishwater dull in comparison to the vibrant British version. I abandoned my brief pursuit of the book; I am VERY particular about covers, especially if I’m not entirely captivated by the blurb itself, and this one simply didn’t pass muster.
I completely forgot about the book for weeks until, as luck would have it, just a week ago, in the Zurich airport, I happened upon an extensive (for an airport) ‘Englisch’ bookstore, where I was instantly drawn to the eye-catching, but intimidatingly thick, UK edition of The Bone Clocks. I purchased it instantly, despite the fact that I still had absolutely no idea as to the plot of the book.
I started it on the plane home from Malaga to New York, an eight hour flight during which I was determined not to sleep. It was the only book I had, and, nervous I’d be disappointed, had bribed my brother with chocolates to lend me his copy of ‘Outliers’ as a backup in the event that I was. The book is divided into parts, each narrated by different characters, whose stories intersect in ways ranging from the blatant to the beautifully nuanced and subtle. The tale opened with a young English girl named Holly Sykes, recently spurned by her trashy boyfriend and attempting to run away from home. I was interested, though not entirely absorbed, by the first section of the tale, which included hints at supernatural elements of the story and introduced us to one of the book’s strongest characters, Ed Brubeck. When I reached the second part, however, with Hugo Lamb and his Cambridge classmates, playing poker, pawning Aston Martins, and heading off on holidays to swanky castles in Switzerland, I found the book all but impossible to put down. From Hugo’s part forward, I was absolutely captivated – until I wasn’t. During the Cambridge bits, interspersed at appropriate intervals with the paranormal, I felt as if I was reading a wonderful, modern crossover between Harry Potter and Brideshead Revisited. I relished the intersection of genres, until the following part, when I realized each and every section was a similar hybrid, some of them working, and some falling flat. The third part introduced war journalism, the fourth an Anna Karenina-esque subplot, and the fifth was a messy mélange of post-apocalyptic fear-mongering and Joycean depiction of rural Irish life. At 613 pages, it is understandable that the author attempts to pack a lot in, but there are times when it feels overwhelming, and, particularly towards the end, unnecessary. Jumbled plots aside, the writing in the book is masterful – modern yet profound, Mitchell writes in a way that few authors do anymore, and I found myself annotating the book, particularly in the beginning, a practice I generally reserve for literary classics. The characters are masterfully developed, their relationships raw and realistic, and their arcs, even through the ridiculous supernatural elements, somehow believable. Though I was angered by the way the drawn out ending brought what would’ve been a 4.5 star book down to a 3.5, I am thrilled that I picked up the book and discovered David Mitchell, particularly because I have heard that Cloud Atlas not only features Hugo Lamb, but is also a far better effort from the undeniably excellent author.