Book 38: A book by an author you love, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Similar to his novel, Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks has a narrative structure consisting of several different characters’ perspectives threaded together to create an overarching storyline. Like Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks explores the idea of souls, reincarnation, and the interconnectedness of human beings throughout time.
What’s different: in this story, the people who reincarnate are fully aware of the process. There are two groups of immortals–one type of individual is born, lives a natural life, dies, goes to the “in between,” and then is reborn several days later into the body of a child or young person with psychic powers whose soul has passed on, but the body remains and the reincarnating soul occupies it. They’re not aware of why this process occurs and they cannot control it, but they are consistently recycling bodies over time. The second group is a sinister cabal of “immortals” who harvest the bodies of young children that have psychic powers. They befriend the children over time, lure them to the sacrificial arena, and drink their blood. This gives them youth and eternal life–assuming they keep drinking children.
Both groups are able to project their souls into other people’s bodies, manipulate thought and memory, and complete a whole list of other impressive tasks. However, they are at war with one another. The first group abhors the killing of innocent children, the second group is fighting for immortality and will stop at nothing to prolong their lives. Over the centuries, the two groups have been at war. When a member of the first group dies, they reincarnate, but when the latter group dies, they are gone forever. The mission of the “good guys” is to slowly pick off the “bad guys” over time. While this seems like an easy task, both groups are armed with impressive psychic abilities, so it’s a long and intense battle.
Interwoven into this war are the lifelines of several mortal but psychically advanced characters who, some knowingly, some unknowingly, assist in this epic battle on all fronts.
What works: David Mitchell is amazing at creating intricate individual universes of characters and interweaving them to display a rich macrocosm. He is great at creating authentic characters and giving them a unique and genuine voice in a short amount of time.
What doesn’t work: The bulk of the novel is first-person perspectives from mortal characters who, while implicated in the plot of the metaphysical ones, only see and understand snippets (ergo, we as readers only get the same). When we get to the chapter that fully unpacks this through line, it is a little awkward, out of place, and difficult to follow. Suddenly, we go from slightly weird but able to suspend our disbelief to a full-on scifi/fantasy story with little support from the author to assist our understanding. It’s like reading a language in which you only understand every third word.
Overall, I consider this another fun experience from David Mitchell. It’s not my favorite of his books, but I admire his style and enjoyed spending a few hours in this interesting world.