Some time ago I picked up David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and, to my slight shame, it is still on the ‘to-read’ pile teetering by my bedside. And moving down the pile as more lovely new books are added to the top. I had read and enjoyed other books by Mitchell – Black Swan Green was like a literary Adrian Mole with a seam of bittersweet darkness and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was a meticulously researched historical novel set in late 18th Century Japan * – but I just couldn’t cope with the idea of the nested stories. In fact I gave up just as the first part ended, rather abruptly, and the second began thinking that I just didn’t have time to work out what was going on. I did, therefore, approach the Bone Clocks with some trepidation – since David Mitchell seems to be a different author with every book he writes which one would he be this time?
As it turns out in this book, Mitchell manages to blend all of his previous author personas into one. The plot is, to say the least, quite complex and I won’t even try to explain it but it starts in 1984 as a fairly straightforward contemporary novel. As you move through the book, however, other elements come to the fore. The final section is set in a bleak future which would sit well in any good postapocalyptic dystopia and the central section is the kind of complex conspiracy-based near sci-fi novel which Dan Brown could only dream of being able to write. And the whole is based on a premise of time-travel which would be good enough for the average Doctor Who fan.
Add to this the fact that this is a wonderfully well-written book – it is on the Booker Prize long list after all – and one which it is an absolute pleasure to read. All human emotion seems to be there at some point, beginning with the heroine, Holly Sykes, and her heartbreaking discovery of the fickleness of both men and best friends yet it is also, in parts, laugh out loud funny. And, as if it were not clever enough without, Mitchell even manages to drop references to characters and events from his previous works into the story without rocking the storytelling boat.
This book, for me, will hopefully end up on the Booker Shortlist – although I am too torn by how much I enjoyed We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves to know whether I want it to win. And, who knows, it may even have persuaded me to pick Cloud Atlas up and give it a second chance…
*I did also read Back Story: a Memoir by the comedian David Mitchell but I guess I had better not count that!