The alternative, working title to this post was “All I Want for Christmas is a Book I Want to Read to the Finish.”
I have now read eight books listed on the New York Times List of Notable Books for 2014. I have no failed to complete four of those books. Is it me? Or is it the books? Truthfully, I didn’t expect to love all 100 books on the list. Truthfully, I don’t expect to make it to each and every book on the list. Truthfully, if I don’t start selecting books on the list that compel me forward through the entire book, I may abandon this project very soon.
My latest effort was The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, who also wrote Cloud Atlas. I have not read Cloud Atlas, but I have seen a number of bloggers rave about it, so I had hopes for The Bone Clocks. Here is the Amazon summary of the story:
Following a terrible fight with her mother over her boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her family and 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 on the war in 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.
Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together by a writer The Washington Post calls “the novelist who’s been showing us the future of fiction.”
An elegant conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist, David Mitchell has become one of the leading literary voices of his generation. His hypnotic new novel, The Bone Clocks, crackles with invention and wit and sheer storytelling pleasure—it is fiction at its most spellbinding.
The Editorial Review section on Amazon for the book is longer than most of my short stories. Here is just a sampling of a few of those positive reviews:
“Magical . . . [The Bone Clocks] perfectly illustrates the idea that we’re all the heroes of our own lives as well as single cogs in a much larger and more beautiful mechanism. [Grade:] A”—Entertainment Weekly
“Rich in detail and incident, funny, rueful and terrifying by turns, The Bone Clocks is a tour de force, deeply enjoyable as both a literary puzzle and the story of one remarkable woman across nearly six tempestuous decades.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Mitchell is one of the most electric writers alive. To open a Mitchell book is to set forth on an adventure. . . . In his latest novel, The Bone Clocks, Mitchell has spun his most far-flung tale yet. . . . Strange and magical.”—The Boston Globe
“A hell of a great read . . . wild, funny, terrifying . . . a slipstream masterpiece all its own . . . David Mitchell is a genre-bending, time-leaping, world-traveling, puzzle-making, literary magician, and The Bone Clocks is one of his best books.”—Esquire
“[The Bone Clocks] has finally descended incarnate from the mind of this divinely inventive author. . . . A rich selection of domestic realism, gothic fantasy and apocalyptic speculation . . . another example of Mitchell’s boundless dexterity.”—The Washington Post
In terms of customer reviews, there almost 700 such reviews, with 450 reviews being of the four and five star variety, fifty-nine of the one star variety, and an overall rating of four stars. I won’t bother quoting any of the one star reviews here. Far too many to choose from.
Here are my thoughts on The Bone Clocks. The first 100 pages introduce us to Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old girl who runs away after an argument with her Mam. During the course of those pages, we get an inkling, just a sliver, of the existence of some kind of supernatural people. There are some creatures out there inhabiting human bodies who have incredible powers. Then, we spend the next chunk of the story with Hugo Lamb, and for the next 60 pages or so of his story, we have no idea what his connection is to anything until he meets a slightly older Holly Sykes while on a ski vacation in Switzerland. There are stronger references to the supernatural world and characters in Hugo’s piece of the story, but still it is really only a glimmer. The story then switches to Ed Brubeck and then Crispin Hershey. Each of whom have a connection to Holly Sykes later in her life and theirs.
And so we go for 400 pages. A story about what seem to be regular human beings touched in what at first to be barely visible ways by this other world until suddenly it all blows out into the open.
I struggled with this book. A lot. I enjoyed the human stories about the characters, but whenever the supernatural element returned, it just … lost me. A lot.
What happened is this. After 400 pages of story, it switches entirely to the supernatural characters and world. I’ll simply describe it as this … the proverbial war between the good folks and the bad folks with humans the pawns and the victims. When I realized that would be the story for the final 200 pages, I closed the book and moved on to the next book in my stack. I’m disappointed. Massively. There’s something about the other world part of this story that simply does not work for me. The best piece of this story is how the human characters — Holly, Ed, Crispin, and others — moved through their lives, together at times, apart at others.
Maybe there is something in the final 200 pages that would have made it worth the time, but after reading the first 400 pages, knowing there was something else brewing under the surface but just being teased about it for so long, I really didn’t care.
So, yeah, another uncompleted book. I’m not too hopeful about the next book in my stack either. It is Robert Gates’ autobiography, focused primarily on his time as Secretary of Defense in the final years of the Bush Presidency and the early years of the Obama Presidency. I’m not sure he is a figure deserving of an autobiography and I’m also troubled by these words in the Author’s Note that begins the book:
I came to the job in mid-December 2006 with the sole purpose of doing what I could to salvage the mission in Iraq from disaster. I had no idea how to do it, nor any idea of the sweeping changes I would need to make at the Pentagon to get it done.
On the one hand, that is a refreshingly honest statement. On the other, I am gobsmacked at the idea that the man George W. Bush appointed Secretary of Defense at a time when the Iraq war was spiraling ever further into hell had no idea how to do his job. Oh, wait, never mind. Now I get it. That was Bush’s habit and curse — appointing people who had no idea what they were doing.