I should just come right out and say that I’m a David Mitchell fan. Having enforced downtime is great for some things, and one of those is reading serious books; Mitchell qualifies.
The Bone Clocks is a tremendous joy, but if I’m honest I also admit that it’s got its flaws. Possibly chief among them is that the warring factions here — without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the key conflict is between two groups of differently-immortal people who are, of course, on the down low — are each retreads of similar ideas from books I read previously.
The good guys here are very similar to the eponymous group from The Incrementalists, whereas our bad guys are even MORE similar to Doctor Sleep‘s True Knot. I’m not saying Mitchell cribbed either, but the resonance is too huge to ignore, and I found it a little offputting.
That said, the book is still really delightful for at least 2/3 of its volume. Mitchell delights in clockwork-clever asides and references (to his own work as well as popular culture and other writers’ works), and they’re out in force here, but subtly enough that they don’t detract. His plots, too, can be so intricately planned as to make a mystery writer weep, and that, too, is a delight — the final reveals here are really stupendous without being cheap. But he still kinda whiffs the last quarter of the book, in my opinion.
Also troublesome to me is his return to what is by now a pretty well-worn near-future trope: broad economic collapse based on climate change and drastic shifts in geopolitical power. I understand why this idea is compelling to some people — it’s part of our global anxiety about the future — but it’s hard to do without feeling preachy. Mitchell fails that test here, I’m afraid, and so that segment ends up being kind of a slog.
Fortunately, the book has many segments, taking place in many time periods, all generally touching on the same people at different points in their lives, and they work together to tell the story. Mitchell is kind of obsessed with time and long-form plots; if you take Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas together, you get the idea he’s working towards becoming a sort of paranormal Centennial-era James Michener, and I don’t mean that as a slight. Telling an epic story is a great goal, even if this time around Mitchell fails to meet the mark he previously set with Cloud Atlas.