You have to admire Paul Kingsnorth. If not for his business acumen but his heart, his creative courage. There was no way a novel such as this, with its unflinching nerve, its determination to create something authentic, something that reads as though written in the time set, would ever be a best seller. The most he or his publishers, Unbound Books, could hope for was the winning of a prize.
This has been long listed for the Booker but I suspect even they, the most prestigious of awards, will baulk at this amazing effort. I say amazing for it is such but also, sadly, almost incomprehensible. I guess that isn't strictly true, I can read it but even so, written in some compromised fashion twixt old English circa 1069 and some phonetic variant, it is difficult going.
Normally when writing historical fiction say Cadfael by Ellis Peters(nee Edith Pargeter) or indeed the superb 'Pillars of the Earth/Worlds Without End' books by Ken Follett, authenticity is sacrificed, compromised might be a better word. Those authors rely on a dialogue that is contemporary with splashes of phrases, words etc from history. They are less authentic of course but far easier to read.
I feel a bit of a heel to even suggest Mister Kingsnorth should have followed suit. This would of course have defeated the point of the exercise but at least I, and many like me I am sure, would have struggled less and enjoyed more the tale being told. Philip Pullman rates it highly so perhaps I am a voice in the wilderness.
What I did like, apart from the authors bravery, is the feeling of poetry that feeds the prose. Perhaps this is the underlying theme here? Even so, the prose is such that I found my attempts at reading it thwarted by words that needed such attention which in turn halted the flow completely. Yes, admirably adventurous but at the cost of ease of understanding. It is by no means a bad book, the reverse is true but for me having to work out each phonetic, each word and then reassemble them into a sentence is too much for this poor brain to deal with. All praise to Paul Kingsnorth. We need brave hearted authors unafraid of going where others won't. Sadly for me this was one step too far.
It begins with Holly Sykes in Gravesend. The year is 1984.
It ends with Holly Sykes in Ireland. The year is 2043.
Between these dates and with this character just one of many in this utterly enthralling novel, is a story rich with invention.
Think of this story as a loaf of sliced bread. A loaf with but six slices each different to the other yet still of the same substance. On each slice butter is spread with jam but each time, on each slice the jam is different. Here we have a constant thread flavoured by a set of stories that interlink. Each chapter, six in total, feature protagonists both memorable, flawed and beautifully crafted. The way Mitchell spins this yarn, merging literary demands with commercial appeal, is another of his conjurers tricks. The six stand alone and could conceivably be read independently (at a stretch) but flex and fall with tone and colour to the direction of their authors whim. They energise the whole rather than the parts.This is done by using a collection of narrators. Holly herself, Ed Brubeck, Crispin Hershey, Hugo Lamb and the convincing Marinus . Time shunts forward as is the metaphysical way with David's work encompassing 1984, 1991, 2004, 2015, 2025 and 2043. Unlike "Cloud Atlas" time does not fold in and back on itself but flows inexorably onward.
Holly runs away from home having been given a labyrinth to memorise from her freaky younger brother. Her parents are both concerned and outraged by her relationship with an older man. She hates them for their lack of understanding. Holly Sykes meets, having had her heart broken at fifteen by a 27 year old Lothario upon discovering his duplicitous nature, a woman called Esther Little. It is a meeting of significance not that the reader is aware of it. From this point on both Holly and reality find themselves repeatedly confronting something quite unbelievable.
Hugh Lamb is an up himself sort of man spending other peoples money with virtuosity under the guise of another name. Not really an unpleasant man but full of his own importance. He meets Holly in 1991. December to precise. It is a meeting, as of Esther Little, that changes life and lives.
Ed Brubeck is a man, a journalist, who first knew Holly when they were kids. He reports on the war in the Middle East. They have a girl child called Aoife.
Crispin Hershey is a wild child of English literature. His books sold like the clichéd hot cakes. Now though his flame burns less bright. Another author, Richard Cheeseman, gets the accolades. Hershey does a bad thing.
Marinus is an energy in a woman's body. A benign force who arrives to help Holly, not that she realises she needs any. Time spins.
With an abundance of energy combined with intelligence, "The Bone Clocks" delivers an uncompromising read littered with love, yearning, heartache and bruising violence. This is not the same novel written over. This is not the artist re-hashing tested ground then re-inventing it. This is the pursuit of fiction through interconnected conduits that elevate story telling to unbelievable heights. David Mitchell resides firmly in that self same place all children do. It is a place where reality, fiction and fantasy co-exists. It is a fluid place, like the ocean, rich in its diversity. If you have a grab rail near to hand it might be best to hold it firmly. "The Bone Clocks" is that kind of novel.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.