“The Bone Clocks” is the first David Mitchell book I have ever read, but it will not be the last. The more I read, the harder I fell for this book, about a time-travelling English girl who becomes a pawn in a war between good and evil. You do have to have a flexible imagination to go along with some of the premises, but what’s reading for?
Here are the next two David Mitchell books on my list:
“Cloud Atlas.” From the description of this 2004 novel, I see a couple of commonalities with “The Bone Clocks:” it’s composed of interwoven stories, and it features a dystopian post-apocalyptic future (though it goes back into the 19th century past as well). In this case the place is the remote regions of the south Pacific. Like “The Bone Clocks,” “Cloud Atlas” plays with time and the idea of reincarnation. I saw the movie, starring Tom Hanks and Hallie Berry, and loved it, though a lot of critics trashed it, which just goes to show that criticism is just one person’s informed opinion.
2006’s “Black Swan Green” is a semi-autobiographical novel about a thirteen-year-old English boy, Jason Taylor. Each of 13 chapters encompasses one month in Jason’s life. It’s written through Jason’s point of view, so you get a lot of teen colloquialisms from the 1980s – not sure how I feel about that! The title refers to Jason’s village in England’s West Midlands. Because of the point of view, this book has also been recommended as a good young adult read.
Now, on to other books. Here are some recommendations, both fiction and nonfiction.
“The Bone Clocks” features a couple of god-like groups, the Horologists and the Anchorites, who are at war with one another throughout the story, and periodically suck human beings into the fight.
One series along these lines that I particularly liked is Lev Grossman’s “Magician” series. There are three books in this series, starting with “The Magicians.” These books are sort of like Harry Potter for grownups. Quentin Coldwater is a very out-of-sorts young adult who finds himself being sent to an academy for magicians after he and his school classmates witness one of their fellow mates being eaten by an entity known as The Beast. Quentin does not exactly have a heart of gold; he and his friends are feckless in the way of many young people on the cusp of adulthood who mask their fear of the future with a lot of cynicism and dissolute living.
Quentin discovers that the alternate world The Beast comes from is something very like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, and The Beast bears a suspicious resemblance to one of the Pevensie children in Lewis’ family, one who went over to the dark side pretty quick. Quintin and friends travel to that world, and what they experience there makes their previous woes look like a walk in the park. “The Magicians” was followed by “The Magician’s Land’ and the third book in the triology, the just published “The Magician King.”
I also want to briefly mention Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. These three books, “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass,” tell the story of a series of parallel worlds riven by conflict between warring forces of good and evil, but Pullman, like the best fantasy novelists, weaves together many concepts from physics, philosophy and theology as he tells his glittering story (Pullman is a religious skeptic, and that’s putting it mildly). There are also armored polar bears, and let me tell you that they are a good thing to have in a pinch.
Finally – There are lots of dystopian post-apocalyptic novels out there, but I have to say that one book the latter part of “The Bone Clocks” reminded me of, and not in a good way, was Elizabeth Kolbert’s nonfiction “The Sixth Extinction.” We had Colbert on Well Read, of course, and her book about how mankind is irrevocably changing the face of the earth really stuck with me (and got me out of the car and on the bus). After reading the latter sections of “The Bone Clocks,” I am redoubling my efforts. It’s time to start thinking about our grandchildren before climate change and fuel and energy shortages start kicking in, as Mitchell eloquently displays in his story of a grandmother and two kids trying to survive in a very scary world.