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…)