The Bone Clocks

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The Bone Clocks is a 609-page drama novel written by David Mitchell, a British novelist, and released on September 2nd, 2014 by Scepter. It is divided into six parts, each with its own narrator, and is connected by a young woman called Holly Sykes, a protagonist character with psychic powers from Gravesend, and rivalry between two warring groups, the horologists, who can reincarnate, and the Anchorites, who are immortals due to their murdering practices.

The structure of the book is similar to that of the author's other books, Cloud Atlas and Ghost written. Each chapter has its own historical and geographical setting. The first chapter focuses on the rebellious teen Holly Sykes in Gravesend, 1984. The second proceeds in time and is set in Cambridge University where Holly meets the deceitful Hugo Lamb in a Swiss ski village. The third chapter moves to 2004 narrating about Ed Brubeck, the war addicted reporter, Holly’s childhood friend and now her husband. The fourth goes to 2015 when Crispin Hersey, once a successful author, plans revenge against his critic. The fifth chapter time-shifts to New York in 2025 where a horologist, Marinus, who treated Holly in his previous incarnation, seeks her help. The sixth chapter further proceeds into 2043 where Holly Sykes lives in the post-apocalyptic west coast of Ireland.

The title of the book is a dyslogistic term the immortals used to refer to mortal aging humans by the Anchorites. The speculative science fiction war between the ‘good’ Horologists and the ‘evil’ Anchorites is threaded throughout the book. The horologists are depicted as pure mortals while the anchorites are soul hunters who extend their lives by feeding off the souls of children to starve off aging. The Atemporals have a set of gifts and powers ranging from telepathy, ingressing and engressing out of peoples’ bodies, redacting memories and the ability to freeze people through ‘hiatus.’ The Anchorites are also able to summon a portal device known as the ‘Aperture’.

The story begins in England in 1984 when Holly Sykes, a rebellious teenager then, runs away from homes after a scalding feud with her mother and unwittingly gets caught up in an occult supernatural war she cannot comprehend that has been in existence for centuries. The fifteen year old sensitive child gets contacted psychically by voices only known to her as ‘the radio people’. She wanders into the English countryside as coincidences and visions reorder her reality into a nightmare. She catches the attention of dangerous mystics. Her lost weekend is just the start to shocking disappearances that scare her family permanently. The narrative time-travels to 1980 England, medieval Swiss Alps, contemporary Iraq, the 19th century Australia, 2025 New York and 2043 Irish village where Holly is trying to shield her grandchildren from environmental catastrophe.

Holly, as the story continues, realizes that she has been used as collateral in the battle between two warring factions. She emerges forever changed by the supernaturals, she’s able to see the future and channel memories of the dead, though she can’t remember what has happened to her. The novel traces Holly for the rest of her life as the war continues in the periphery, impacting on those around her that she loves including those not yet born, as the war draws to the final battle.

A part from themes of conflicts, wars, life, death, time, power, love, healing and mourning, exploitation, coincidences and fate, identity, the story of humanity, the novel is rich with realms of possibility and character. It’s a kaleidoscope for the past and future as far as the debate about reality and fantasy is concerned. It’s a careful reflection of ravages of time that our bodies, things and those around us encounter, molding them into shape.

Another key theme among other dominant ones is death and immortality, which can also be viewed from real-vs.-meta perspective is depicted when the oldest Horologist, Esther Little, otherwise known as Moombaki, a Noongar woman, has lived for thousands of years. The horologists do not go across the so-called ‘Last Sea’ where the human souls end up. This shows the thoughtful side of the author as he delves into a researched history of the Noongar History. Another adjunction to the Reality-Fantasy theme is the predacious nature of the Anchorites and mortals eating children. The final part is also set in the imaginative post-apocalyptic future, referred to as the ‘Endarkment’.

Another awkwardness achieved by the blend of reality-there is electricity, medical and food shortages, security cordons, ration boxes, pandemics such as Ebola, lawlessness and an every-person-for themselves mentality which are real time current issues in some parts of the world and fancy where the young look at the older and seniors the older as eaters of the future. Another battle front inform of the young versus the old. It is not fantastical elements that create awkwardness but the fact that these factions are not connected emotionally, intellectually and psychologically as in realistic contents. For instance, the lives of Crispin Hershey and the anchorites intersect yet they don’t belong to the same world. The human elements are associated with refinement, but when the focus shifts to the other factions; they are painted as uncomplicated evil. These jarring movements weaken the novel. The different sections of the novel are journals, interview transcripts, letters, and a novel within a novel. This uncertainty strengthens the reality of the fictions rather than weakening them.

Another absurdity is achieved by incarnation, or returning of characters. For instance, the Horologist reincarnates, having treated Holly in his previous incarnation. He was first introduced in the author’s previous novel ‘Black Swan Green’ as Jason Taylor’s despicable cousin. Another incarnation of Marinus was in the author’s another earlier novel ‘The Thousand Autumns’ as the mentor of Jacob de Zoet. Mo Muntervary is another reincarnate from ‘Ghostwritten’. Others that reincarnated include spiritualist Dwight Silverwind and Nurse Noakes. Through this, the sense of uncertainty is lost into a magical reality. These links close off some imaginative and speculative possibilities. This style though may seem peculiar but resonates because good fictional works should encompass what’s written on the pages and imaginative and speculative interpretations that readers make as part of reading.

The impact of this fictional work is weakened by explicit positioning within a continuity that is shared. The Horologists and the Atemporals, by time-transcending, make this novel feel petty. The elements of fancy though are a show of creativity, can look puffed up with vanity when placed against beautiful human moments. The work presents how a sense of uncertainty can be lost into a magical reality.

Works Cited

Mitchell, David. The Bone Clocks. Hachette UK, 2014.

October 20, 2022



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