The Bone Clocks Review

I have just finished one of the best books that I have ever read.  That book is David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks.   Mitchell is as much a magician as he is an author.  He can take you anywhere in time and place, real or imagined, and not only make that world come alive, but keep your attention, making you want to see what happens next.

The book consists of six stories in which all but two are told by different narrators.  All of these stories take place in different time periods from 1984 to 2043, although there are flashbacks to much earlier time periods as well.  Mitchell can write with complete realism or dive into the world of total fantasy, and he is adept at both styles.

There are writers that can make you think and writers that can spin a yarn, but rarely do the those talents exist in the same writer.  Mitchell is one of the few that can write a page turner and make you ponder the larger questions of life.

Mitchell’s earlier masterpiece Cloud Atlas is worth reading as well.  However, I know that some people will not make it through Cloud Atlas because I have always seen the book as structured like a mountain.  It takes some work getting up the first half as you adapt to the different uses of language and style.  Once you get to the mountaintop, you won’t be able to stop reading and the second half is a breeze.

I think there can be a good debate over which book is better, Cloud Atlas or this one.  However, I do feel Mitchell was able to keep a lot of the sweeping themes and ideas from Cloud Atlas in this book and actually write something that was more entertaining from the start.  After about 20 or 30 pages in I simply could not put this book down.  Some people will rate this book lower because it is less of a challenge, and I myself am not sure which book is better, but I actually think a great book does not have to be hard to read.  I’m a huge fan of George Orwell because he was able to convey such complex thinking in such simple readable language.

To convey too much of the plot of The Bone Clocks would be to ruin it for those willing to explore its many worlds.  This book demonstrates the power of the imagination.  It is full of heart and heartbreak.  It will make you take a hard look at the world around you and somehow allow you to escape as only the best stories can.  Most importantly it is a book full of empathy for us flawed creatures called human beings. This book is for those that are willing to look at the hard truth of the world and at the same time dream of a better one.  For anyone that has loved being lost in a book on a rainy day, I can’t recommend any book more highly than this.

The Empathy of David Mitchell

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I am about three quarters of the way through the new David Mitchell book, The Bone Clocks.  Although there is always the possibility that Mitchell won’t land the ending, and the ending of anything matters, so far I can’t help but feel this book is a masterpiece.  At different times throughout the journey I was highly engrossed in an extremely realistic description of a journalist in the Iraq War, the life of a serf in Tsarist Russian, a dark comedy featuring a modern writer, and science fiction action scenes that seemed as if they came out of a blockbuster movie.  Those are just a few of the different styles and perspectives that Mitchell weaves seamlessly in this book.

Although I can’t claim to know exactly what goes on in Mitchell’s head, I feel that after reading all of his books, except for the small amount of this one to go, that there is a purpose to all of these different styles and characters.  I think Mitchell understands that the only tribe that matters is the human race.  Most of the time when human beings treat each other poorly, it is because they put their tribe first.  That tribe can be a political, religious, or ethnic tribe.  It is seeing themselves as being more important than someone else.  It is the ability to not be able to imagine oneself in another’s shoes, to feel enough empathy.  Mitchell takes us inside the head of many different kinds of people and he does so using many literary techniques.

Again, I want to hold off final judgment until I finish the book, but Mitchell might have just painted a masterpiece.  Mitchell uses many of the the same techniques that brought him such acclaim in Cloud Atlas, but if anything this book might actually might be more entertaining from story one.  I can’t put it down, and haven’t been able to since I started.  Stay tuned for more about this book in the future, but you might want to check it out yourself in the meantime.

David Mitchell Interview

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/a-hot-tip-to-win-the-booker-prize-david-mitchells-new-book-the-bone-clocks-is-a-tour-de-force-of-genreskipping-9714364.html

The above link is a fascinating interview with author David Mitchell.  Mitchell is one of the great writers of our time.  Right now I am thoroughly enjoying his new novel The Bone Clocks.

David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami

 

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Two of the best living novelists have new books out.  David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami are both novelists that are able to entertain and deal in serious themes of the human condition.  

Here is an excellent review of Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks in The Atlantic:  

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/review-david-mitchells-bone-clocks-the-cloud-atlas-authors-meta-masterpiece/379445/

Here is a review of Murakami’s new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by rock n roll legend Patti Smith:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/books/review/haruki-murakamis-colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage.html?_r=0

I intend to read both of these novels.  I highly recommend Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, please god don’t see the movie, although all of his works are worth checking out.  My favorite Murakami books are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On the Shore, although again almost all of his work is excellent.  

Code of Hammurabi and Sledgehammer

I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book today called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?  Here are a few snippets from an address to Agnes Scott College, which is a women’s college.  The piece is entitled Advice to Graduating Women (That All Men Should Know). 

I am so smart I know what is wrong with our world.  Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”

What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago.  And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too.  Are you ready for this?

“And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi,  which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury,  real or imagined, shall be avenged.  Somebody’s going to be real sorry. 

Bombs away – or whatever.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ” Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”  What kind of a man was that?  Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends and relatives, and make their deaths painful.”

And later…

Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago. 

We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully,  violently,  to every insult or injury.  In this, the Age of Television,  they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers,  to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on.

Fires, explosions.  Come look.  Oh my gosh – hey wow.

To quote the late Irving Berlin: “There’s no business like show business.”

It seems that not only in our response to slights, not only do we not take the high road,  but our responses create the unbroken chain of violence that Mr. Vonnegut speaks of.  One only has to look at the Iraq War and now the emergence of ISIS.   It also seems as if our response is always disproportionate to the original slight. 

I was reminded today, while reading this, of a show I used to watch as a kid.  It was called Sledgehammer,  and it was a spoof of the kind of over the top Dirty Harry character that always uses excessive force.  I think the link to the video is a good metaphor for our foreign policy.  In the clip the police are being shot at by a sniper.  Rather than simply take the bad guy out, Sledgehammer pulls out a bazooka and blows up the entire building in which the sniper has his nest. 

Oh my gosh – hey wow.

Pity Our Enemies

I finally finished reading Borstal Boy.   In the afterward Benedict Kiely writes about what made Behan so special.   Kiely knew Behan and at the time was teaching Borstal Boy  to female students at a college in Virginia.  If only we could all be more like this:

They were, not surprisingly, impressed by words not customarily in use in respectable American homes: but much more they were impressed by the author’s vast and obvious humanity, by his humorous acceptance,  his abounding life and love of life.  His people, from the roughest screw (prison officer) in Walton to the gentlest boy in the open prison camp by the North Sea (and with the possible exception of the R.C. Chaplain who, quite without authority, cut him off from the sacraments), are almost all looked upon with sympathy, or, at any rate, with a sort of pity (“for very oft we pity our enemies”), or with defensive enmity that becomes perverted brotherhood.  You feel that if the worst of them had met him elsewhere,  and under less claustrophobic circumstances,  the unpleasant things might not have happened.  

Borstal Boy  is an account of Behan’s time in prison and reform school as a young prisoner.

Brendan Behan on Religion

This passage was written by Irish writer Brendan Behan and it is from the book Borstal Boy.   A borstal is a reform school for underage prisoners as an alternative to prison.  Walton is a jail in Liverpool that Behan was in before being moved to his reform school.  He was imprisoned for being caught in Liverpool with bombs as an I.R.A. member.  Because he would not renounce the I.R.A. he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  However, while at reform school he was allowed to serve Mass because he could read Latin, despite not being able to receive the Sacraments.   This passage is his reflection on religion right before he is about to serve Mass:

But I wasn’t bitter.  When I am in good humor, I could not be bitter about anything.  It was different in Liverpool, where the priest was an active enemy.  Here the priest had nothing to do with me, and I nearly lost interest in Sacraments,  and whether I was deprived of them or not.  Walton scalded my heart with regard to my religion, but it also lightened it.  My sins had fallen from me, because I had almost forgotten that there were such things and, when I got over it, my expulsion from religion, it was like being pushed outside a prison and told not to come back.  If I was willing to serve Mass, it was in memory of my ancestors standing around a rock, in a lonely glen, for fear of the landlords and their yeomen, or sneaking through a back – lane in Dublin, and giving the password,  to hear Mass in a slum public house, when a priest’s head was worth five pounds and an Irish Catholic had no existence in law. 

There were few Catholics in this part of the world and the priest had a forlorn sort of a job but Walton had cured me of any idea that religion of any description had anything to do with mercy or pity or love. 

English Catholics had no time for the Irish, except when they were begging from them.  They had no use for Paddy the navvy and Biddy the scivvy,  beyond taking their money when a new church was being built.  The aristocratic old English Catholics had some kind of double dealt immunity from the penal laws, and the conversions only started when the Irish got the Emancipation and it became legal and safe to be a Catholic,  and a lot of English shopkeepers’ sons gave up Methodist and became Catholics because the more romantic minded of them thought it brought them into contact with the great world of Italy and France, which was atheist or Catholic, but always lively. 

One of the fascinating things about Behan, from reading this book, is how open minded he is.  Even at a young age he is able to see the difference between the British Empire as a system and the English people, as many of his friends in prison and reform school are English.  He was able to have a disdain for religion but feel for a priest with a forlorn job.  He could be against a system, but treat people within that system as individuals.  He had a great mind.  I now understand why so many writers and songwriters remember him fondly.