Review : The Bone Clocks

A good book leaves you thinking about it between reading sessions. A great book leaves you thinking about it after you’ve finished. A freaking spectacular book not only leaves you thinking about it, but colours everything that you try to read afterwards, and leaves you feeling slightly hollow, because the experience is over.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell falls into the ‘freaking spectacular’ category. As the page numbers started growing ever larger, I felt enormous internal conflict – on one hand, the compulsive desire to find out what happens, but on the other hand, the need to draw things out slowly, to savour every page and thought. I suspect the fact that the last book that really had that effect on me was The Luminaries is a very good sign for The Bone Clocks’ chances on the award circuit.bone clocks

Even now, days after I finished it, I think about the feeling of closing that heavy pink hardback after reading… and then opening it again, to re-read the final page – knowing that it was going to be a hard act to follow. Perhaps intentionally I have limited much of my reading since then to easily-packaged pop YA fiction (even when I have responsibilities to other books) – I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to fall into another story so deeply.

The Bone Clocks is mysterious. It contains fantasy, but you wouldn’t dream of shelving it in an SF/Fantasy section. It’s epic and complex without being incomprehensible. It visits the past and the present, the real and then unbelievable. David Mitchell is a wizard. I have heard mixed things from others about his earlier books, so I’m a little wary of dipping my toe into those waters – after all, I would hate to taint the admiration that I currently have for the man.

I’m loath to go into too much detail, because however I try to describe it, I won’t do it justice. Good and evil are more black and white than they are in some tales, and yet it takes quite some time to figure out precisely which is which. It’s about survival at any cost and in the worst circumstances. It’s about examining the way in which we treat our world. It’s about one person, and so many people at once.

It is not a book to jump into lightly. You need to treat it carefully, give it the time that it deserves. If you peck at it bit by bit, you might not be captured by it as much as it deserves. Get yourself somewhere comfortable, allow yourself a decent chunk of time, make yourself a pot of tea or a plunger of coffee. Appreciate the beautiful design, both aesthetically, and conceptually. Be prepared to have people comment on how pink it is. Laugh gently, knowing that they have no idea what this pink tome holds. Then, when you’ve finished, pass it on to someone else to read, so it can inhabit them next. It’s what Marius would do.

This is the first of (hopefully) several reviews of books longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Last year I only managed to sort out The Luminaries and We Need New Names – this year, I will hopefully manage to do the whole shortlist (all the better if this magical title makes it through to the next round – my hopes are certainly high).

Review : The Bone Season

I wrote this up over the last couple of evenings, and just as I went to post it, I saw that Samantha Shannon posted on Twitter that it’s a year to the day since The Bone Season was released. Most fortuitous timing to be nattering about it here then, hm?

The Bone Season hovered on the edge of my reader consciousness for a while before I took the plunge. As I’ve probably mentioned here, the life of a bookseller is a wonderful one in many ways, but difficult in others – particularly when it comes to prioritising books to read. But months of noticing a staff pick card stuck to one of the computers at work (thanks, Ness!) eventually piled up and I decided it was time.

Nice work, self. The Bone Season

The basic genre concept of The Bone Season combines supernatural fantasy (love – when well executed) with dystopia (double love). I’m sure there are other examples of this combo out there, but I can’t recall having encountered one. Clairvoyance, alternate history, bit steampunky, dystopic future… it’s a helluva combo.

The main character, Paige, is well crafted in a way that many ‘genre’ characters tend not to be. She’s not superwoman, despite having rather unusual abilities – and at the same time, she’s not one to swoon wildly in the presence of preternaturally-beautiful god-like beings. Which is refreshing.

I’m looking at you, paranormal romance.

It’s such a fascinating world that Samantha Shannon has created. Dystopia always seems to exist in the terrifyingly plausible and familiar world, whereas fantasy is, well, fantasy. Combining the two is a satisfyingly eerie combination – some of the standard ‘oh GOD this could HAPPEN’ of dystopia is worn down because of the fantastical elements – but the characters are no less accessible because of it – the amaurotic vs. voyant divide may be an imaginary rift but it echoes many such historical instances of persecution.

It breathes life into a realm of fantasy that dances closely to real life – obviously there are people in the world who do place a lot of faith in psychics and tarot readers. What they would make of Shannon’s world, I don’t know, but it (almost) makes me want to believe.

We have many more to look forward to in this series, with Shannon being signed for three titles from the get go, and recently having this extended to all seven intended instalments.

As a reader? Bloody loved it. Read it swiftly. Finished it and looked up exactly when book two is due out.

As a writer? The usual sense of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ that one feels when encountering authors who get signed while still in undergrad. Admiration and frustration.

As a bookseller? DREAM. It’s adult fiction, but eminently readable but most of the young adult crowd. Written well – in such a way that non-‘genre’ readers might be willing to give it a go, but not so ‘literary’ (ugh, these labels) that those who generally stick with fantasy and/or SF (often high-concept/poor-execution)


The Bone Season is out now from the clever folks at Bloomsbury.

2013 and the winter of the magnificent book releases

Interrupting the regular poetic and health related programming to bring you a bit of what this blog was originally intended for – BOOKS. Today I realised that yet another of my various favourite authors has a book coming out this year, just to add to my literary excitement of the months ahead. So, in chronological order, here are the upcoming releases that I am most excited about – the four new releases (one for each of the four coming months!) that are making 2013 my favourite publishing year in, well, years. And if there are any upcoming releases that you’re excited for, let me know in the comments!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman. June 18th.

Well, if you’re at all switched into the online literary world, you’re probably aware that Neil Gaiman has a new release that is so close I can almost taste it. His first marketed-at-adults book since Anansi Boys, no less. I haven’t managed to get my hands on a reading copy yet, sadly, but will be devouring it as soon as it arrives. Soon, soon… watch this space for an actual review. Initial thoughts – the title is wonderfully whimsical. When I first heard it, I was a combination of jealous and inspired. Page count looks to be quite short, which could mean two things, for the most part – it will either be small and perfectly formed, or it may leave me wanting more. Or both, I suppose. Only time will tell.

The Fall of Light. Sarah Laing. July 5th.

This is the release I only found out about today. Her first novel, Dead People’s Music, was possibly my favourite release of 2009 (reliving the kiwi experience of New York after getting back home through her words rather than mine… bittersweet). And I may or may not have one of those opportunities that booksellers do have, from time to time, to get my nose into it before the actual book hits shelves. It’s like Random knew it was my birthday this weekend (which it is, feel free to buy me books!)…

The Luminaries. Eleanor Catton. August 2nd.

I think this is probably the one I’m most excited about. Eleanor Catton is probably my favourite NZ writer of the moment (which is a tough call, especially with the Sarah Laing book on my plate at the moment, but still…) – and by moment, I mean ever since I read her first novel The Rehearsalwhich was released in 2008, and is absolutely brilliant. If you haven’t read it, fix this immediately. She is not to be trifled with, and if VUP do get a reading copy to the store soon, I will be so many different kinds of grateful, I don’t even know what I’ll do. Except, you know, read it, and squeal, and all that.

Maddaddam. Margaret Atwood. September 3rd.

And to wrap up my Amazing Book Winter, there is the new book from none other than the titan of the word, the mistress of my literary heart, the incomparable Margaret Atwood. She is, without doubt, my favourite, favourite author. Maddaddam is the third and final installment what is now the Maddaddam trilogy, which kicked off with Oryx and Crake in 2003. And which is, incidentally, probably my favourite book ever. Oryx and Crake and the follow-up The Year of the Flood were intertwined, but at the same time stand-alone novels, occurring over the same – or at least similar – time-frame, whereas it sounds as though Maddaddam is set after both of the other novels – so whether it will feel more like a sequel than its own entity remains to be seen, but you can bet your sweet bippy that I will let you know what I think. SO. EXCITED.

So that’s my four big releases, the books that’ll make this year worth wading through – what about you, o fine readers?