An exceptional literary novel that combines nuanced characterization and exploration of deep themes with gripping pacing and well-crafted diction, The Bone Clocks deserved its place on the Booker Prize long list and I’m surprised it didn’t make the short list.
My attempts to summarize the story either veered too long or sounded bizarre (mostly because the story is, in fact, rather bizarre), and it was well nigh impossible to make sense without giving spoilers. So instead I will begin with the overall themes. The book examines the conflict between good–represented as making sacrifices to help others–and evil–represented as getting ahead or living comfortably at the expense of others. The nuanced characters often veer between these two poles, changing over time, leaving open possibilities for change, and many making redemptive choices in the end. In the book, the conflict plays out between characters, but is also illustrated by changing physical/environmental settings, questions of how people interact with science and technology, and different geopolitical situations in the Middle East, South America, and Great Britain.
Mitchell handled his multi-layered narrative and wide cast of characters skillfully–if you like to study writing craft, you could read this book slowly and take notes. But if you don’t really care to know about the man behind the curtain, rest assured that his talent will not keep you from an engrossing story.
This book would make an exceptional choice for a book club discussion, if you have the sort of group that is willing to go deep on issues and structure, and if you’re willing to read books with which you may disagree. I say that because, in my experience, some groups are more willing than others to take on complex and contested selections. That’s fine, but you’d be missing out if you kept a conversation on the surface level for this one.
Although I did find I disagreed with the author on many points, I’m so impressed with the book overall that I am adding The Bone Clocks to my list of best books for this year.
If you like literary fiction and deep themes mixed with multiple levels of reality and a dash of dystopian future at the end, you will enjoy The Bone Clocks. And if you read it, or have read it, let me know because I’m dying to discuss it!
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