Too much prose too little magic (but a great end) – David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Thoughts


(It’s a long time since I read this so please forgive slightly vague summary… ) A teenage Holly Sykes runs away from home, and in a slightly odd conversation with an old woman, becomes a part of an eternal conflict between magical forces of good and evil. Throughout her life she is drawn into their battles, as she (and many other characters) also just lives her normal life.

I read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell a few years ago and was enthralled. The masterful skill of weaving the different stories within one book, making them link together and above all making each and every one of them completely and utterly compelling astounded me. Here, Mitchell attempts the same sort of thing but, disappointingly, to lesser effect. I found myself ploughing through some of the stories in order to get to the plot bits, rather than actually enjoying them. Arguably, it is showing that the magic bits are just a part of a whole life; we’re giving the boring, normal and human bits as well, but I feel like such a masterful storyteller could have made them a bit more interesting.

Of course, this is David Mitchell. So in some ways, this book was fantastic. It was very well written, the characters displayed were well rounded etc. But just perhaps a bit boring? I can’t remember it hugely well but I can remember thinking, ‘please, can we just go to the next important bit please?’

The ending was great too. I loved that it took us beyond the crazy magical climactic battle, and on to the next big dramas of life. We see what happened next to all the characters, which was pretty surreal actually but fun to see that life doesn’t end just because the big battle is won.

In the contrast between ordinary life and big magical showdowns this book reminded me of Paul Meloy’s much lesser known and similarly titled The Night ClockIn both we are invested deeply in ordinary life as well as magical, but I think Meloy got the balance better. Here I was left frustrated and as though I was the product of an author trying to make a point rather than just enjoying a book.

I’ve just been trying to decide whether to read Slade House, Mitchell’s next book. On the strength of Cloud Atlas, I think I will, but if I’d only read The Bone Clocks I don’t think I would.

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