David Mitchell’s sixth novel The Bone Clocks is out now. Kate Fox took a look.
The first time my husband told me a film was “like Doctor Who” in order to get me to watch it, I fell for it and really enjoyed magician adventure The Prestige. Then he tried to tell me horror film Saw was “like Doctor Who” and I was wise to his tricks. But, if I was trying to describe David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks, I probably would say it is “like Dr Who”.
It has that enjoyable blend of grounded reality and mad fantasy, cleverness and fun which marks the best of the Time Lord’s adventures. It also occasionally crosses the line of “I was with you about the centuries-long battle between two types of immortal humans, the Horologists who are well-meaning and the Anchorites who sacrifice children but DON’T make me try believe in the battle to the death in the Chapel of the Dusk of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Monastery of Sidelhorn Pass. That’s just SILLY”.
Thankfully, though, our way into this esoteric world comes initially through the engaging voice of Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old growing up in an ‘80s of Talking Heads cassettes and Thunderbirds Pyjamas. She’s fed up at home, has been cheated on by her boyfriend and knows it’s “a scientific fact that virgins can’t get pregnant. Stella said”.
We return to Holly through the book, until she’s an old woman in the 2040s in a Chinese-controlled, near-Apocalyptic world running out of energy. Other narrators lives entwine with hers and Mitchell does a virtuoso job of making us care even about Hugo Lamb, a mildly sociopathic student and Crispin Hershey, an amusingly egotistical famous novelist. For much of the novel their encounters with the Horologists and Anchorites, who see us mortal humans as the “bone clocks” of the title, are like a static in the background they are only occasionally tuned into.
As with his previous book (now also a Tom Hanks film) Cloud Atlas, stories weave within stories in this epic, TARDIS of a tale. He’s tackling massive issues like how humans face death and the interconnectedness of us and the planet, but unlike many literary writers, he doesn’t seem to think this means having to sacrifice things like gripping plots, imaginative devices and beautiful but accessible writing along the way.
Standup poet who's been poet in residence for Radio 4's Saturday Live, Glastonbury Festival and the Great North Run.