The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks

I’m a big fan of David Mitchell – I devoured Cloud Atlas – although, perhaps oddly, I’ve not read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which I suppose is a precursor to this book, so maybe I should have. But, it it’s not necessary to have done so.

Mitchell’s way with prose is second-to-none. He can create a world in a paragraph and destroy all your remaining hopes and dreams in another. He’s also really mastered the multiple-narrator trick. Each sounds distinct in a way that isn’t cloying, but natural.

Holly Sykes, the principal protagonist of this book is, well – she’s one of the best characters I’ve read in ages. She’s inspirational, she’s tough, she’s smart. She’s only the narrator in 2 sections, but features prominently in all.

Here’s an odd thing – with the exception of the epilogue (more in a moment), the narrators are universally dislikable. The other characters get to shine when someone else is narrating them, but the narrators themselves do not. When we first meet Holly she’s a bratty teenager – not horrible, but not exactly nice or good. But, tellingly, you already see the signs of worthiness that the latter narrators will expose. But Hugo, Ed, Crispin & Marinus are all quite unlikable as narrators, though each gets varying degrees of remediation in the eyes of other narrators.

The primary sci-fi element running through the book is forgettable, oddly. Indeed, my least favourite section is the primary dénouement, which is straight-up super-hero-immortal vs super-villain-immortal and not terribly well thought through, I thought. I found its own internal rules inconsistent, which is a cardinal sin for sci-fi/fantasy. But, the book is so good this is easily pardoned. And Holly. Holly’s so damn great to read that she makes this section worth it.

Finally. The epilogue: A post-internet, near-future (30-years-from-now) post-apocalyptic world that is so horrifyingly plausible that it left me fairly shattered after reading. Honestly, the first 500-odd pages are worth it just to read this – but DO read the first 3 sections at least to give this the real weight it deserves.

Lastly, there’s a nice (I’m assuming) hat-tip in the book to Vancouver’s own Douglas Coupland.

Zeitoun

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

I’ve just finished reading Zeitoun, Dave Eggers’ latest book. I’ve an ongoing habit of alternating reading one fiction, one non-fiction book. I keep meaning to write about some of them here, but never get around to it, but am taking the time for this one. Zeitoun tells the story of one family’s experience immediately preceding, during & after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It grew out of the Voice of Witness project, a fascinating project, particularly in this modern age, with a goal of collection oral histories.

Zeitoun tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American & his wife Kathy. Like most of what I’ve read by Dave Eggers, the concern here is not so much in the writing of a book, but in the TELLING OF A STORY. An important story – content seems to precede style in his work – particularly these semi-journalistic books like this one & his last, What is the What. This has both positives & negatives. I really feel like I’m hearing these people’s own voices, much less so than Dave Eggers’ voice. On the other hand, I think some of the writing suffers somewhat for this.

Yes, everything that you might think would happen to an Arab-American canoeing through post-hurricane New Orleans in the post-9/11 America happens to this family. It’s horrible. It’s also the most affecting personal story I’ve read of just how things have changed for muslims in America since 9/11. This small, personal story made a much greater impact on me than any of the large-scale important reporting I’ve read in the papers, magazines, etc to date. It’s a good, sometimes hard, but well-worthwhile read.