Holly Sykes, precocious, headstrong, a girl who hears voices, is the tie that binds in David Mitchell’s ominously titled sixth novel, The Bone Clocks. Like a few of his previous works, The Bone Clocks serves up a dizzying and sometimes disorienting ménage of stories-within-stories unwinding over long spans of time, across many continents (among other, less earth-bound locales) and then attempts to re-ravel the variegated threads into a unifying whole. Mix in a dash of fantasy – warring factions of immortal beings – and you have a novel quite unlike any other.
Mitchell possesses an uncanny ability to draw his readers quickly into a scene which, given his modus operandi, serves well to bridge the transitions between vignettes less jarringly than one might expect from a novelist with lesser powers. This is not a new revelation for fans of Mitchell. After Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas, two of his previous novels which employ similar feats of digressive storytelling to great effect, his readers have come to expect these surprising forks in his narrative road, trusting him to lead where he will. In The Bone Clocks Mitchell seems at times to revel somewhat cheekily in this unwritten compact between he and his readers, as when the crusty ‘Bad Boy of British Letters’, Crispin Hershey, reads a scathing review of his latest novel by the critic Richard Cheeseman (who also appears in an earlier vignette as a student-friend of Hugo Lamb at Cambridge–twists and turns, threads weaving):
“The fantasy subplot clashes so violently with the book’s State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look… What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?”
These meta comments, the awareness and anticipation the characters (and Mitchell himself) seem to possess about the reception of The Bone Clocks, has the unsettling effect that whatever the reader thinks he thinks is all somehow part of Mitchell’s grand plan. (more…)
In the case of Paul Kingsnorth’s extraordinary first novel, The Wake, which has been long-listed for the Mann-Booker prize, the effort is most definitely worth the reward.
One of the most unique and fiercely beautiful novels written in any language.
Set during the Norman invasion and occupation of England in 1066-68, the book is written in a “shadow-tongue”, the author’s imagined amalgamation of Old and Modern English, which proves slow-going for the first several pages and may scare off all but the most intrepid of readers. Which is a shame—the readers’ shame, not the author’s—because they may prematurely close the covers of one of the most unique and fiercely beautiful novels written in any language.
“Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Great books remain relevant for a reason – because they teach us something. They better us; broaden our understanding of the world and its many fascinating inhabitants. And for that reason they deserve to be re-introduced, from time to time, so they may find in this vast ocean of distractions, some few new fertile islets upon which to propagate.
One such enduring saga is Irving Stone’s 1980 exploration of the life of Charles Darwin, The Origin. So much more than a fictional biography of one of the greatest minds who ever lived, it serves to immerse us in his world and enable us to understand better the true heights of his genius and courage. It lays bare the distinctly human aspect of the man himself through an exploration of his fears and insecurities over his own writing, and how the world may ultimately perceive him. (more…)
Galore indeed. Michael Crummey, with his third novel, serves up a whole heaping fish-bucket full of fantastical characters and larger than life, mythical tales that serve to dazzle and astound the reader. For fans of Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Galore will be a reminiscence of sorts, as Crummey makes no bones of his emulation of that master of magic realism. But that’s where the similarities end. (more…)