One of the most inventive writers of the past twenty years is David Mitchell. Not many authors have attempted in only six novels the range of literary styles Mitchell has tackled. Wait, what am I saying: Not many authors have attempted in a single book the range of literary styles Mitchell gave us in Cloud Atlas, among them a mid-19th century tale of a notary from San Francisco sailing to New Zealand, a mystery in which a gossip columnist learns of corruption and cover-ups at a California nuclear power plant, a comic story in which a vanity press publisher of titles such as a mobster’s Knuckle Sandwich is incarcerated in a sadistic nursing home, and a futuristic tale of fabricants who are bred to be slaves for the purebloods in the corpocracy of Nea So Copros.
The follow-up to Cloud Atlas was a coming-of-age novel, Black Swan Green, a semi-autobiographical book about a 13-year-old stammerer growing up in England at the time of the Falklands war. And then Mitchell had the gumption to give us, of all things, a historical novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, in which a young clerk from the Dutch East Indies Company traveled to Edo-era Japan in the late 18th century.
The Bone Clocks is Mitchell’s most ambitious novel yet. After you read the first thirty or forty pages, you might think Mitchell has written another book in the style of Black Swan Green. It’s 1984, and the tone that opens this story of 15-year-old Holly Sykes is at first reminiscent of the one Mitchell used to chronicle the 14th year in the life of Jason Taylor (whose cousin, Hugo Lamb, is one of many prominent characters in the new work). But then Holly’s little brother Jacko gives her a hand-drawn maze of eight or nine circles inside each other, tells her, “The Dusk follows you as you go through it. If it touches you, you cease to exist,” and implores her to learn this diabolical labyrinth. Before you know it, the tone of The Bone Clocks makes the first of many unexpected shifts. The result is a paranormal novel in which two groups of quasi-immortals, the Horologists and the Anchorites, vie against one another and use Holly as a weapon in their power struggle. Like much of Mitchell’s work, The Bone Clocks is clever rather than profound, but, boy, is it clever.
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Mitchell recently for the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can read the interview here.
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