If you’re familiar with David Mitchell’s (The Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) work, then you probably know that it defies easy categorization. Veins of magic realism, fantasy, and science fiction run through the bedrock of his fiction; a trait it shares with the work of other genre-savvy giants like Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon.
His new book, The Bone Clocks is an epic work of imaginative fiction with a story that spans decades and covers continents. The novel’s plot is slowly revealed through the viewpoints of several people whose lives have (or will) intersect with that of Holly Sykes: a psychically sensitive woman who stumbled into a hidden and terrifying world after running away from home at fifteen.
The book won’t be published until September 2, but it is already receiving rave reviews from sources as diverse as horror author Joe Hill and New York magazine. Readers who have managed to get their hands on advance copies are pretty happy with it, too. (When readers compare a book to both Stephen King and Umberto Eco then you know you have something special.)
It can’t be easy for an author to straddle two literary worlds like Mitchell does. The short walk between the science fiction and literature shelves at your local bookstore may as well be a distance of light years for some readers. Genre can be a handy way to find things to read, but it can also be limiting. Books that don’t make a strong case for fitting within a particular genre can end up slipping between the cracks.
Casual readers and critics alike might dismiss a book out of hand, entirely on the belief that it doesn’t jibe with their particular tastes, or they may not even see it at all because of the genre listed on the back cover or where it was shelved in the book store. Imagine missing out on the satirical science fiction of Kurt Vonnegut because his books happen to be in the “literature” section of your local bookstore, or being a avid reader of literary fiction who skips Slaughterhouse Five because it is shelfed over in science fiction? Plenty of people did when it was first published in 1969.
Slaughterhouse Five’s loosely autobiographical mix of time travel, anti-war allegory, and extraterrestrial contact was just too much for many critics, who dismissed it as silly or science fiction drivel; that it wasn’t serious enough to be real literature. It wasn’t until a handful of brave writers and the anti-Vietnam war counterculture embraced the story of Billy Pilgrim, the soldier who becomes “unstuck in time”, that the novel became a success in any sense of the word. Years before he found fame, science fiction (?) author Michael Crichton wrote as much in his own review of Slaughterhouse Five.
Clearly, those those who limit their reading options to just one genre or marketing category does so at their own peril, and this brings me back to David Mitchell, and why you should read his soon to be released novel The Bone Clocks. I know Unbound Worlds.com’s readers to be a pretty canny bunch. I’ve chatted with many of you online, and I’ve even had the distinct pleasure of meeting some of you in person. You’re curious, tolerant, and unafraid of things that don’t quite fit in I suspect that this is because so many of you don’t fit into perfect little boxes, yourselves. Neither do I, and I commend you for it.
The Bone Clocks is another one of those books: a slippery read that eludes easy description (Is it science fiction? Well, maybe. Is it “literary”? Hmmm. Define literary: Kurt Vonnegut literary or Marcel Proust literary? Where should we shelf it, then? You’ve got me there, imaginary book shelfer: How about under “g” for great books?), but I think I think that this is precisely while you’ll like it.
If you’re as curious and brave as I believe you to be, then you’ll find a kindred spirit awaiting within The Bone Clocks: a protagonist who has slipped outside the realm of what’s “normal”, and found herself in a new, bewildering world. Isn’t that what all of us fantasy and science fiction fans are looking for?