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624 pages, Hardcover
First published September 2, 2014
“For one voyage to begin, another voyage must come to an end, sort of.”Your déjà-vu is real (or maybe you're a Prescient). Yes, you've seen something of this sort before. Six interconnected stories told in the first person, combined to create a novel, radiating like raindrop rings on water - or maybe the walls of a concentric maze leading to the elusive center - from a central overarching theme. You've seen it from David Mitchell not that long ago, in the hit-smash-success Cloud Atlas. You'll see it again in The Bone Clocks - but less gimmicky, more streamlined, a bit more cohesive, and a bit more playful.
“Being born's a hell of a lottery.”Running through Holly's life is a mystical thread of strange events, precognition and brushing from time to time with the Horologists and Anchorites - the two kinds of immortals engaged in their own perpetual tug of war.
It seems to me that this unexpected genre blending with fantasy - or as our lit'rary colleagues will call it, 'speculative fiction' (yes, Margaret Atwood, I'm side-eying you) to avoid the label of the genre with which they remain uncomfortable - is what both puzzled and frazzled a few critics out there.And yet, as much as it hurts this fantasy fan to admit it, the overt inclusion of fantastical elements is what weakened the story. In comparison with the other parts where just a slight teasing suggestion of 'magical realism' was perfect for infusing the atmosphere of the novel with just a right amount of uneasy suspenseful beauty, the overt trip to the realm of supernatural was not Mitchell's forte, leading to an almost young-adult level of sudden grating simplicity of rather non-ambiguous good-vs-evil psychic battle leading to an anvil-like foreshadowed magical maze. How fervently did I wish during the entire Marinus section that the merciless editorial scissors had chopped that chapter right out¹, leaving us with a subtle undercurrent of mysterious 'other' instead.
Yours truly, however, being a proud old hand at all this genre/fantasy/sci-fi stuff, will scoff snobbishly and say - 'Puh-lease.'
¹ While we're on the editorial chopping block theme, I wish the merciless scissors or metaphorical red pen went through the overindulgent Crispin Hershey section a bit as well. One can only take so much 'meta' screaming, 'Look how clever I am! Lookie here! I'm a writer character so meta-ish-ly preempting all your reactions and all your reviews and how fracking wittily smart is it of me, huh?' Puh-lease. I get it. Enough. Cut it out. Move on.As far as Mitchell's strengths go, the powerful punch-in-the-gut impact is in the bits of Iraq war rather than in the supposedly decisive and overwrought Good-vs-Evil fantasy-overdone battle.
A random aside: I see much has been written about the interconnectedness of this work with other Mitchell's books as a number of characters have had cameos in his other novels. Clever, but hey - those of us Constant Readers who have followed Stephen King (the non-lit'rary genre guy, yeah?) are no strangers to the concept of the fictional universe interconnected by numerous characters traipsing in and out of seemingly separate novels.The language of the novel - well yes, I did enjoy it quite a bit. I like Mitchell's style, with his easy organic humor, unexpected apt metaphors, and quotable passages. It flows, 'nuff said.
“We live on, as long as there are people to live on in.”And so, The Bone Clocks. What do I actually think of this book, after all these words and thoughts that "meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox"? It's still hard to say. I loved the first three parts (Holly, Hugo, Ed), slogged through the overwrought meta-pathetic Crispin story, stumbled through Marinus' bit in exasperation at the nosedive the quality of the novel was taking, and despite all the dystopian clichés was grateful at the direction the story took in the final Holly chapter. The inevitable highs and lows - cannot escape them. After all, despite my most fervent wishes, writers do not create all of their stories to appeal specifically to me.
Why is Echo Must Die such a decomposing hog? One: Hersey is so bent on avoiding cliche that each sentence is as tortured as an American whistleblower. Two: The fantasy sub-plot clashes so violently with the book’s State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look. Three: What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?Each of these points are clearly addressing Bone Clocks itself, or is it that Echo Must Die is in fact a in-novel version of Bone Clocks? There are plenty of strong points in this novel, particularly Mitchell’s recurring theme of those in power holding an obdurate seat of authority over those without by any means possible most, notably emphasized in Brubeck’s chapter ‘Wedding Bash’, yet every time the novel is flowing nicely along through societal or interpersonal commentary, the fantasy elements crop up, derail anything beneficial, and speed the plot along towards some unsatisfying and unnecessary fantastic climax (a climax achieved in an orgasm of action-packed psychic battle bloodshed). To humor the idea, what then are the ‘echos’ that must die? Through each section, right when things get dicey and plot-excitement take hold, there are the repeated questions: ‘what do you know about Horology?’ or ‘Who is Esther Little?’. These questions echo on, conjuring up the jarring and, unfortunately for the book, juvenile and cheesy fantasy elements that plague the novel. Mitchell is pointing out how these fantasy stories, the action plots of authors like Lee Child and Dan Brown (both of which are frequently mentioned) are bastardizing the literary tradition. This then leads the reader to question every element of the novel, noticing the glaring cliches and other popular fiction elements flagged by flagrantly poor writing.
“My hero is a Cambridge student called Richard Cheeseman, working on a novel about a Cambridge student called Richard Cheeseman, working on a novel about a Cambridge student called Richard Cheeseman. No one’s ever tried anything like it.”
“Cool,” says Johnny Penhaligon. “That’s sounds like—“
“A frothy pint of piss,” I announce, and Cheeseman looks at me with death in his eyes until I add, “is what’s in my bladder right now. The book sounds incredible, Richard."
"Ripe apricots taste exactly of their colour."
"I watched the stars and thought of other lives."
"Her only friends on the estate were books, and books can talk but do not listen."
"The impossible is negotiable. What is possible is malleable."
"We hear seagulls. The net curtain sways."
"Art feasts upon its maker..."
"Fateful or fated?"
"The room is lit by the light of a golden apple."
[...] while the wealthy are no more likely to be born stupid than the poor, a wealthy upbringing compounds stupidity while a hardscrabble childhood dilutes it, if only for Darwinian reasons. This is why the elite need a prophylactic barrier of shitty state schools, to prevent clever kids from working-class post codes ousting them from the Enclave of Privilege.
So why is Echo Must Die such a decomposing hog? One: Reese is so bent on avoiding cliché that each sentence is as tortured as an American whistleblower. Two: The fantasy subplot clashes so violently with the book's State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look. Three: What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?"