The Bone Clocks

Change is sort of hardwired into the world… what’s real changes. If life didn’t change, it wouldn’t be life, it’d be a photograph. – David-Mitchell-in-Holly-Sykes

I just finished The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. The passage I quoted is near the very end of the book; it wasn’t until I read it that I realized this book is where my last blog post came from. That particular message, that life changes (one I have spent quite a bit of time pondering, one reason why I enjoyed the book so much), came across to me before it was ever explicitly suggested. That is a sign of a talented author if ever I’ve seen one!

And my is David Mitchell a talented author.  He strings together seemingly random characters and ideas masterfully into an interconnected maze; a loose conglomerate coming together in the end to form a complete structure.  It’s quite remarkable considering the importance of mazes in the story.

The best books are the ones that make you think, and think again. The Bone Clocks was certainly a clever examination of mortality and life. It got me invested in the characters and left me wanting more. Holly is…  I have no words for Holly.  She’s just wonderful. And I sure hope Oshima shows up in Mitchell’s past or future novels!

I checked out two of his other novels, Slade House and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, from the library,  so those are next on the list.  I think I’ll start Slade House tomorrow,  in fact…  

Update: *spoiler warning* I realized I didn’t say anything about the last part of the book, “Sheep’s Head.” I felt it was a bit contrived. It didn’t so much as add to the plot as advertise the terrible effects of global warming and depleting oil reserves, which is fine, those are both very good and appreciated points, but I think it could have done well as a separate novella. For example, in my opinion all of the major points of the book would be the same if that passage was completely left off. Sure we find out what happens to Holly, and we wouldn’t have that glorious quote that I used earlier (that could have easily been added elsewhere in the book), but all of the other characters in that passage were created in that passage; they weren’t part of the book before that (which is the pattern of the different sections of the book, but it seems an odd choice for the end; ends of books are usually spent tying things up, no?). Those characters were interesting, but again, I think it would have been better as a novella because, simply put, turning the book into a dystopian novel at the last second seems like a sell out and a terrible way of cheapening the rest of the book. The “maze” had been completed, why tack on this extra part that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of it?  I would much rather have seen the last part of the book tie up the Crispin Hershey end, which I feel was left dangling… or did I miss something?

Regardless of all those quips (which I hadn’t even included in my original post), it’s obviously still a remarkably spectacular book. It’s rare that a book captures my attention as wholly as The Bone Clocks did! I will definitely be reading it again, as I think it’s one of those books that will be even better the second time.

On the merits of books

Books are places of comfort. Not because they are not capable of bringing out your worst fears and anxieties but precisely because they do just that. They bring out your worst fears, your biggest dreams and wildest of hopes, and they stay with you through it all. Books can never leave you, see. They will never leave you. You can bare your soul to a book and it will hold you tighter. You read each word and each word turns into a sentence which turns into a paragraph which turns into a page. As you read each word you create a story. The author creates the bones of it, but really and truly, you create the story (Neil Gaiman explored this idea in a talk entitled “The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography”), so as you read a book you can rest assured that it is your own. The words in the story as they’re written don’t belong to you but the journey the story takes you on does, because you created that. You used your imagination to take yourself on a journey with the book through a blacked out hotel in Baghdad, escaping death from car bomb solely because you bent down to pet a cat, or across the windy Brighton Pier during Planet Con, frantically searching for your missing daughter. You went on a journey with the book and the book went on a journey with you. You learned from it and I wonder…. What did it learn from you?

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You get to the last page and you start at the beginning, all over again, with the promise that the words will always be there. They won’t run off the page when the going gets tough. In fact they may appear to hang on all the harder. But you also keep the words, stories, and ideas with you in more important ways. In your heart and in your brain words and stories never die.  As a certain character named “V” said in an 80’s comic: “There’s no flesh and blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”

Ideas never leave you. Stories never die.

Books are the most loyal of friends.

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A transcription of Neil Gaiman’s “The Pornography of Genre,  or the Genre of Pornography” talk can be found in his new book The View From the Cheap Seats.
If Baghdad or the Brighton Pier sound intriguing to you,  I recommend you read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell,  which is the inspiration for this post.