By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: David Mitchell
Narration by: Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, Steven Crossley, Laurel Lefkow, Anna Bentinck
“The Bone Clocks” is a labyrinthine journey into the thrills and fears of immortality. “The Bone Clocks” is not a straight forward story. One who has read Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” will have an inkling of what is in store. Mitchell creates characters in “The Bone Clocks” where time has no meaning; i.e. a reader listener is not sure whether they are in the past, or present. In some instances, timelessness creates tension and high suspense; in others, it creates confusion that only clears near the end.
Authors of fiction may or may not have meaning or teaching moments in a story. Meaning and teaching moments rests with reader/listeners. Fiction writers are not constrained by history, logic, or provable truth but only by imagination. “The Bone Clocks” is, in part, like a memoir of a financially successful author of fiction in the late middle of a career without a good idea for his next novel.
Reader/listener’ consciousness of something insightful or revealing makes stories enjoyable and authors memorable. The idea behind the title, “The Bone Clocks”, is that human bodies are bone clocks that can carry particular immortal souls. When a body runs down, the immortal soul moves on to another bone clock. Moving on takes two forms–one where the immortal soul takes a body after death, and another that takes a body while alive. “The Bone Clocks” plays with time and incorporates the paranormal, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”. It will lose some listeners who struggle to find their way through Mitchell’s maze.
“The Bone Clocks” is partly about human mortality. Conversely, it is also about the thrill of immortality; e.g. the potential of knowing more about everything, acting as you wish without personal consequence, remembering different pasts while seeing the future unfold, never worrying about the present; etc., etc. It is also about the cost of immortality; e.g. fear of having to start over and over and over, the psychic consequence of leaving others behind, fear of being cliché, fear of knowing ones’ life work is inconsequential; etc., etc.
Immortality in art, science, or religion is sustained by insight and revelation. Literature, like other arts, religion, and science, offer humans an opportunity for immortality.
Mitchell introduces the heroine of the story in his first chapter. She is a fifteen year old who decides to run away from home. She chooses to leave home after a row with her mother about a boyfriend who is several years older. The boyfriend is a cad. He has seduced the fifteen year old. In her runaway, she finds her boyfriend in bed with another girl. She is determined not to return home because of embarrassment over her mistake. As an aside, the author notes that this fifteen-year-old, Holly Sykes, hears voices. These voices are found to have material importance when Holly decides to hitchhike to another village to find a job.
Holly’s idea is to show her mother she is capable of independence with the inference that she will, at some time, return home. In the course of her job search, she finds there are reasons beyond proving independence for returning home; i.e. reasons that are related to “radio voices” only heard by a select group of souls.
Several stories unfold during the course of Holly Sykes’ life. Each story reveals more about Holly Sykes and an unknown war, waged by two factions of a Horological society. Horology is the science of measuring time which is ironically irrelevant to the souls of those who are a part of the Horological society. The largest and most malevolent faction of the society occupies bodies and replaces souls of living human beings. The smaller (less than ten souls) and benevolent faction of the society occupies bodies only when a soul departs from natural or human cause. This small group of immortals track down the soul killers for elimination. What creates some tension is that both the malevolent and benevolent factions can die in described circumstances.
It is unlikely that Mitchell has created a work that will offer immortality but it is certainly imaginative and offers some human insight. Not the insight one might wish for and hopefully not a future that comes true.