15 November 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Summary from Goodreads:

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

This is my second-ever outing with David Mitchell (the first being, of course, Cloud Atlas) and I'm not exactly sure where to begin.

Do not mistake hesitancy for dislike: I liked this novel a lot.  A. Lot.  But where to begin a review....

The Bone Clocks feels very much like two novels working in tandem.  One is a realist novel centered around a working-class protagonist, Holly Sykes, who may or may not have heard voices and whose little brother disappeared the weekend that Holly ran away from home.  The second novel is that of an epic battle between good and evil played out on the metaphysical world that exists under our own reality, but centered around Holly and the "radio people" she heard as a child.  It's like the magic trick with the two rings - they appear separate but through sleight-of-hand they intersect.

The characters in this novel are vividly drawn, starting with Holly herself.  If she had seemed like a stock character, or one that could have been replaced with a "sexy lamp" (to borrow from film criticism), this novel would have failed in spectacular fashion.  Because Holly, even though she is difficult and mouthy, takes no shit off anyone, least of all Oxbridge poseurs and psychic body-snatchers.  Even when she wasn't the narrator I kept reading in the hopes that I would get back to Holly's voice.

I am in a bit of a quandary, though.  I read an ARC copy of The Bone Clocks (and started out with a DRC) but I have heard that the advance manuscript differs from the finished edition in a number of ways (particularly those characters from other books who make cameos).  I don't have time for a re-read now, but do I go back later, after I've read more of Mitchell's backlist to see if I can recognize changes or meta-fiction elements I hadn't seen on this read?  Decisions, decisions.

Dear FTC: I started with a DRC of this novel via Edelweiss then finished reading with a paper ARC that was sent to my store.

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