I first encountered Mitchell's writings in Cloud Atlas, a ground-breaking novel of such scope and freshness, it bowled me over. I truly loved it, and would safely say it's one of my favourite books ever. His ability to create different voices and characters, centuries apart and then connect them with a tentative thread, made me immediately want to read it again. Because Mitchell's work is so clever, and inlaid with clues and connections, you know there'll be a host of treasures waiting for you on a second and third (and more) reading.
I went from there to Black Swan Green, a heavily biographical tale, wonderfully, but simply told. I was disappointed by The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, because I love all things Japanese but I found the historical tale dull, and actually gave up on it.
When I heard his latest offing was a throw-back to Cloud Atlas, I immediately purchased a copy and even went to get it signed at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire where he was appearing with John Boyne, as part of the Mountains to Sea festival. On the night, he read from the book and chatted with humour, empathy and intelligence to John. Having got my title signed, I couldn't wait to read.
The book is divided into six sections, the first one featuring the main character, Holly Sykes, who has run away from home in 1984. It's brilliantly written and I was immediately sucked in. But if this was to be anything like Cloud Atlas, I knew it would not simply be a traditional tale. And it's not. Because Holly hears voices in her head and sees things which no one else sees. So I'm thinking, yeah interesting. But then the strangest of events happens out of the blue and hits the reader like an articulated truck. Over the course of a few pages, the reader is left reeling, wondering "what the hell is going on?" Has Holly finally cracked up, or is there something strange going on in the world of The Bone Clocks? Luckily, things return to normal again, and we are left wondering if Holly had some sort of seizure?
The next four sections of the book feature characters which are part of Holly's life and we get to see her from their perspective. All very clever. I was liking this a lot. The weirdness however continued, assuring the reader that the bizarre events of section one are not the wild imaginings of a young girl. There IS something bigger and stranger going on in this book.
But nothing prepares you for section five, in which we are immediately thrust into this strange and weird war between Horology and the Anchorites, two secret groups who "psychodecant", "subspeak", and perform "Acts of Suasion" in "The Chapel of the Dusk". Weird, you say? Well that's exactly how you feel as you plough your way through a section which is so far removed from the rest of the book you feel like you just wandered onto the set of a Science Fiction serial which had been running for twenty years. I was totally bamboozled and lost, and even thought about putting the book away. But I hadn't invested in 400 pages to give up now. When Holly finally appears, we feel a little less disorientated, but only a little. This single section is such a mind-warp that it cannot be reconciled with the rest of the tale. I honestly felt like Mitchell had overdosed on acid as he wrote the section called "An Horologist's Labyrinth".
So, exhausted, confused and nauseous, I arrive at the final section, which like the first, is from Holly's Point-of-View. And this section is brilliant. Set on The Sheep's Head peninsula in County Cork (where Mitchell lives), in the year 2043, it chronicles the final years of Holly Syke's life in a world where technology has failed, and society is falling into chaos and ruin. The ending is wonderful.
So I have a love/hate reaction to this book, something which seldom happens to me. I love five sixths of it, but hate one fifth. Perhaps I'm just not clever enough to have understood section five, but I honestly found it so jarring and confusing and head-melting, that I would have to say, it ruined a perfectly good book. And so it is for this reason that I give this 5-star book, only four stars.
Now I'm off to read the reviews. Can't wait to hear what others thought. Is this a work of genius which I just wasn't equipped to cope with? Or does Mitchell finally cross the line in The Bone Clocks with his experimental fiction, and should he have been stopped in his tracks by his editor?
What do you think?