The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Frustrating. Moving, often brilliant, but feels incomplete in many ways. Magical bits aren’t fully baked, as if he thought it was cool but didn’t want to flesh it out too much (because it doesn’t make sense). Ditto his portrayal of the future, which was scary as hell in the moment but on reflection is just another doomsday scenario from the 1970s.

The overall storyline of following a character from the 1980s to the 2040s feels better, but gets sidelined so often that the final chapters have less emotional impact than they could. There’s also numerous threads that get introduced just for plot’s sake and then dropped, with not even their emotional impact explored, let alone their practical consequences.

All in all, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Using the present tense for the main narrative means that when you do a flashback, you can reach for the past tense as an easy way to distinguish the two.
  • Stream of consciousness writing can help make a normally unsympathetic character more likable.
  • Stronger to use vocabulary to give a sense of dialect speech, instead of punctuation. It’s also easier to read.

5 thoughts on “The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

  1. Not familiar with this work, but I really appreciate the “things I learned about writing” section of this review. Everything we read can help us learn how to become better writers.


  2. Thanks! I agree there’s always something to learn — good or bad — from each book. Started keeping notes on each one to force myself to be more aware of what each writer is doing, and how they’re accomplishing it.

  3. Great idea as long as you don’t mind pulling yourself out of their “world” so to speak. I might try it I’m just a little afraid I’ll spoil the fun of reading. Do you think you have more or less fun when keeping notes?


  4. I find that taking notes makes me pay more attention to what I’m reading, so I end up remembering more of it, which makes it more fun 🙂 I also like trying to puzzle out how things are done, and noticing when they’re done well gives me a deeper appreciation for the book.

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