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by Jehuda Saar

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Book Review - The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Mr Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" is a book that made quite an impression on me a few years back. Framed in an unusual structure, it is in essence six novellas that form a very satisfying whole. Prior to reading "The Bone Clocks", "Atlas" had been the only other Mitchell book I had read. With "Bone Clocks" Mitchell once again uses a structure of six interconnected stories, each written in a different style, with one recurring character, and two of the stories told in that character's voice.
Without spoiling much, the book revolves around two groups of "immortals" waging a centuries old battle, with at least one side moving through the ages by having their souls inhabit different people as they progress. The author uses that format to express some opinions about world politics, specifically different aspects of Middle-East flash-points such as the American presence in Iraq or the Israeli Palestinian conflict among others.
Mitchell also made the unusual decision to take a character from his previous novel, 2010's historical novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet" and make him/her a central figure in "Clocks". Reading "Thousand Autumns" before "Clocks" is not necessarily a pre-requisite, the book stands perfectly on its own, but I'll probably be joining the numerous readers who will now have to discover that connection in the wrong order. To some extent it is similar to Neal Stephenson's use of recurring named characters in his "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle". Not reading one should not affect enjoying the other.
Personally I didn't enjoy "Clocks" as much as I had "Atlas". The satisfaction in "Atlas" comes from the completeness of that work, the way everything ties together so perfectly. The joy in reading "The Bone Clocks" lies more in the parts, the individual novellas, than in the whole: appreciating the individual styles, the humour in one, the drama and metaphysical aspects in the next. Mitchell is a skilful writer and seems to have a good time trying out different story-telling forms, sometimes to the detriment of the book as a self-contained novel.