The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – A Book Review

Like you, I felt excited to read The Bone Clocks because David Mitchell also wrote Cloud Atlas.  Now, I’ll be honest, I consider Cloud Atlas one of the more difficult books I’ve ever read, and, as a former English major, that’s saying something.  In fact, I really didn’t decide that I liked Cloud Atlas until after I finished reading it.  It was a labor of love, and my pride wouldn’t let me give up on it.

Having said all that, The Bone Clocks is every bit as imaginative as Cloud Atlas, and, I’m happy to share, far more accessible.  In fact, The Bone Clocks engaged my heart and mind immediately. 

The Bone Clocks is another work of interwoven plots, fateful coincidences, and miraculous occurrences.  It is also, I’d like to add, an incredible character study.  In fact, I feel that these are some of Mitchell’s most believable characters yet.  Ironically, he also includes some of his most unbelievable characters.  I don’t say that because these unbelievable characters feel fake, but rather because they are deeply ingrained within the realms of fantasy and science fiction.

Though I personally loved it, The Bone Clocks is largely written as a very realistic story of family, loss, love, resolve, and indecision; however, there are significant moments when Mitchell pulls no punches and throws you into the deep end of an otherworldly conflict that has existed for centuries.  Mitchell is a fine writer, a pleasure to read, but some readers may find the sudden travels to an alternate plane of reality too jolting, too unrealistic, and too out of context.  Except it’s not out of context.  Mitchell lays the foundation of this fantastical tale from the very beginning, and by story’s end, you realize you’ve been reading a superb work of genre from the start.

Like Michael Chabon, I love genre.  I think genre should be celebrated.  Some of our dearest works of fiction, those belonging to the classical canon, could easily be considered genre works.  Mitchell has given us the best of literature – an expertly written story that offers insight into the human soul while regaling us with a tale that enlivens the imagination.

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Cloud Atlas – A Movie Review

This movie, adapted from the exceedingly difficult novel by David Mitchell and directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, shot right into my top five favorites of all time.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this film.

Never.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it presents six different storylines that are loosely related.  Mitchell gives you the first half of each in the first part of the book, then the second half of each in the last part of the book.  Each storyline is written vastly different, seemingly by different authors.   At times, it seems incomprehensible.

I won’t lie to you – I did not enjoy the book whatsoever while reading it.  However, upon finishing it, it burrowed into my mind and I grew to love it.  But it is a hard, hard, hard book to read.

The movie, as one would expect, is far more digestible.  It still adheres to the six storylines, but it now weaves in and out of those storylines as they progress, transitioning from one to the other to the next and back again.  The viewer experiences them nearly all at once, while, in the book, you had to work your way through each section and connect the dots on your own.

The story spans hundreds of years.  One story takes place in the 1800s, two more take place in the 1900s, one takes place in 2012, another takes place in the twenty-second century, and the last takes place sometime after 2300.

I won’t go into great detail about the film’s plot, because that would take far too much time, but the film maintains that all are connected, that aspects of ourselves live on, both good and bad, and that love, justice, and equality are things worth fighting for, even if it’s across the chasms of time.

Now, this is a departure from the book.  In my mind, the book implied that the stories were connected, but it did not overtly state that the characters were, in a way, reincarnations.  The film, by using the same actors to play nearly six different parts each, definitely wanted the audience to take note.

This is a complicated, well executed, beautiful movie to behold.  It’s a little bit of a comedy, a little bit of a mystery action film, a little bit of a science fiction adventure, a little bit of a post-apocalyptic dystopia, a little bit of a period piece, and a little bit of a philosophical wake-up call, yet it’s not completely any of these things.  It is unlike anything else.  It is all of them at once.  It is new.  It is original.  It is refreshing.

Tom Hanks, who, frankly, initially struck me as miscast, gave this movie its heart and soul and I loved him in it.  There were several times he nearly moved me to tears.  Halle Berry was the best I’ve ever seen her.  Jim Broadbent stole the show as the ridiculous Timothy Cavendish.  Hugo Weaving is always fun to watch no matter what he’s doing.  And good old Hugh Grant finally impressed me as an actor – he did a wonderful job!  In fact, all of the actors in this movie were fantastic.  They made a tremendously ambitious movie feel cozy and inviting.  They made an epic feel personal.

You’ll notice as the film advances that several actors play different roles in different time periods.  In all cases they work.  As already mentioned, these are very good actors and they were chosen wisely.  My only complaint about the entire film is when they had Caucasian actors playing Asian characters. It was incredibly distracting and took me out of the movie a little bit.  The prosthetic artists got it almost perfect, but not quite, and so I found myself wondering who was really Asian and who wasn’t, and that’s something I didn’t want to think about as I watched the movie.  Hugo Weaving as an Asian man was especially jarring.  The eyes were so unnatural that they seemed almost to be mocking.  I know this was not the directors’ intent, but it did come off that way to a degree.

On the flip side, I totally understand why they did that.  Far more so than the book, the film adaptation goes to great lengths to impart upon us that race, creed, and color should not matter when it comes to love and justice.  The movie had African Americans playing Caucasians, Asians playing Hispanics, men playing women, women playing men, etc.  The message, of course, is that our core, our very soul, takes precedence over our outward appearance.  Justice is deserved by all.

By the way, if you have an opportunity to buy the soundtrack, do so.  It is a beautiful, fulfilling musical score that lives up to the mythos of the Cloud Atlas Sextet.  I listen to it all the time while I write, I have for months, and it sounds new to me each and every time.  I actually bought it long before I saw the movie because, after previewing it, I knew it was something very, very special.  (I’m listening to it now, even as I type.)

I understood Cloud Atlas because I read the novel beforehand, but I’m not sure I could make that statement had I not read the book.  Be that as it may, this movie is not only a visual triumph, it is also ambitious in its storytelling and unafraid to take risks.  The acting is superb, the music is heart wrenching, the characters are charismatic, the story is captivating – this movie surpassed my expectations.

In other words, I loved it and I think you should watch it.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – A Book Review

I’m not going to lie to you, this book took a tremendous amount of effort and, while reading it, I hated almost the entire thing.  I say this as an avid reader and an outspoken lover of literature.  My favorite authors are Chabon, Proulx, Auster, and McCarthy, so it’s not like I’m unaccustomed to challenging reads.

But then something miraculous happened … After I finished the book, I started to like it more and more.  It’s almost like how exercise stinks while you’re doing it, but when you see the end result, you love it.

I can’t explain the book.  I just can’t.  It spans centuries, there are six different storylines that brush against each other, Mitchell splits up the six storylines into two different sections strategically placed within the larger context of the novel, he plays with language and sentence structure to the point it’s nearly incomprehensible … just read it.  Or don’t.

I read this book for two reasons.  The first, and strongest, was pride.  The smartest guy I work with read it and loved it and challenged me to read it … how could I say no?  The second reason, and you book lovers will relate, I wanted to experience it before the movie came out and altered my perceptions of the characters and settings.  I managed to get it read right before the movie came out, but it’s taken me this long to work up the nerve to try to review it.

Maybe I should have listened to my instincts and resisted that urge.

Okay, try to focus, Scott.  The book is difficult but ultimately rewarding.  It is not a page turner, but it will join your essence after having completed it.  You will be confused much of the time, but through thought you will appreciate it all the more.

On a side note, I still haven’t seen the movie, but I bought the soundtrack and it is excellent.  I listen to it all the time as I write.  It gets my creative juices going.