Book Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (2014)

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I came to this book with great expectations. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014 for this, Mitchell’s sixth book, I was very aware of this author by reputation but had never actually read a novel of his. This early in the year it is a little premature to say it’s the best I’ve read in 2016, but the stakes have been raised. This is premium storytelling, unpretentious, clever and all-encompassing.

The Bone Clocks is the story of Holly Sykes, taking place over six decades of her life from the recent past and taking us on an exploration into the near future and what may lie ahead for all of us in terms of global events and catastrophe. There are various narrators through the timeline of the book, all visitors to Holly’s life and showing us her through different lenses. Mitchell’s genius is making us believe in these characters, whether they are on the side of good or evil. And there are those two sides: this is a clever illustration of how the bending of genre can work. The world in which events take place is clearly the very same that we live in but elements of fantasy are woven throughout, gently at first so that the reader will accept the full on Big Bad battle scene that occurs towards the end of the book.

To say that this is a complex novel is a huge understatement. As a novice writer, the idea of having so many characters taking their turn centre stage, each completely drawn and researched to the point that you’re sad to see them move on, is masterful. The amounts of research into these characters and their backgrounds, the humour (Crispin Hershey the washed up novelist resigned to giving talks in broom-cupboard like rooms at literary festivals was a favourite, mixed in with a brief horrific glimpse into a global apocalypse within our own lifetimes, I felt awed throughout. At just over six hundred pages this isn’t a short book but it’s easily read and, for me, quickly.

In short, this is a book that is complicated, but is easy to read, it’s funny and sad in turn. The stakes are high and the sacrifices great. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something different. If you want to read a book that will make you think without being overly intellectual and worthy, then The Bone Clocks is for you.

 

 

Hangmen – Wyndham’s Theatre, London

I heard so many good things about this play that I couldn’t not go and see it. January’s a pretty challenging month at the best of times and I thought a bit of humour would be welcome. As the name should suggest, this play is black humour at its best.

There is a short prologue to open Martin McDonagh’s play: our hangmen are attempting to carry out their role but the condemned man proclaims his innocence. No matter, he is swiftly dealt with and indeed hung in front of the audience, one of those moments that you brace for but still can’t help wince at.

Jump forward two years and our hangman antihero, Harry (David Morrissey) is working behind the bar of his Oldham pub. This is the setting for most of the rest of the play and brought back memories of my own barmaid days. There was always something incredibly sad about those men who arrive at the pub within minutes (or seconds) of the doors opening, but they all had stories to tell. For the most part, the laughs come thick and fast because it’s all so natural. The dialogue is perfect, the characters so true to life that I could pair each one with a bloke who used to come into the pub where I worked. You know that Harry is setting himself up for a spectacular fall (no pun intended) but even when stranger Mooney (Johnny Flynn) walks in you don’t quite realise at first how it all ties together.

The tension builds, Harry’s daughter goes missing and the audience become complicit in what becomes an incredibly grim finale. But even through the torture we all carried on laughing. How clever. It isn’t until on the train home or the next day that you think back on what you’ve seen. Once the jokes have been forgotten, the harsh truth is left behind.

There was only one aspect of this play that I thought misjudged. Although I was not alive in 1965 I am aware that racism was a lot more prevalent then, and likely there were words spoken in small grotty pubs full of middle-aged white men that would now only be said aloud in the company of the most right-wing EDL’ers. However, in a modern play, albeit one set in those times, it jars. Some reviews I have read defend it as a sign of the times, adding to the tone of the piece and cementing its setting. I disagree. For a start, if you mean to make your audience uncomfortable use the correct vernacular of the time. There’s no point talking about a ‘funny-looking black chap’ in the paper. We all know what word would have been used back then. Also these little anecdotes were randomly scattered, not adding to the narrative and in fact were more of a distraction. I thought it quite a clumsy way of introducing racism into a play without a character of colour or a thread of story to attach it too.

That said, the above does not detract from the fact that this is still a brilliant play and I highly encourage everyone to go and see it if in London. If not, then check local cinemas for the NT Live broadcast in March.

Hangmen is currently booking until 5th March 2016 (Showing in selected cinemas: NT Live 3rd March)

From the beginning…

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a while now but haven’t had the time between working full time and writing my first book. Now that I am on the eve of a three month sabbatical from work, it seems the perfect time to explore all the writing opportunities that I have put off for the past two years: writing short stories, plotting and researching the next book in my trilogy, and starting this blog.

I’m hoping to post once a week, reviewing books, theatre and film, and covering my travels around Australia and Asia over the next couple of months. It’s all going to be a bit random but that’s life for you.

I am a total novice at this so will leave it here for now. To make up for my brief intro I should be posting a DOUBLE BILL next week featuring both a theatre and a book review.