Now, despite that fact, there’s much to love here: the sentences in this novel are particularly juicy and playful. These are sentences that immediately make friends with the reader, though the characters do not always accomplish the same. The final section is a cuttingly bleak view of the world’s future that could stand on its own against any post-apocalyptic volume. This novel is pure pleasure to read: it’s funny, it’s bizarre, it’s sometimes incredibly profound, it’s sometimes un-profound in the most human of ways, in the way that makes you think: ah, yes.
But The Bone Clocks suffers from the same essential problem that Cloud Atlas has, which is this: under all the language play and virtuosic storytelling, under all that delight, what is Mitchell really telling us? Surely not simply, in Cloud Atlas, that we are all connected; surely not simply, in The Bone Clocks, that life is precious, that death is scary and inevitable, or that good is preferable to evil. Big ideas, but not complex concepts, at least not as presented here.
For all its many characters and styles, Cloud Atlas wrapped itself up with a bow: we began where we started, having hit all the same steps on the way down, and it felt whole. The Bone Clocks feels somewhat more than whole — it feels exploded, or maybe like one very good novel that invaded the consciousness of another very good novel. Or four.
But perhaps Mitchell isn’t interested in wrapping things up neatly anymore — any fan of his will realize, while reading his latest, that familiar characters appear. I’d noticed this before in Black Swan Green and Cloud Atlas, and thought it a charming wink to the dedicated reader, but apparently not one of his novels stands wholly alone. In fact, Mitchell told Kathryn Schultz that he considers his novels mere “chapters in an Über-book” that is yet to be completed. This is a fascinating, incredibly ambitious idea — that all of these novels, from psycho-mystery fantasy to realist coming-of-age story to historical novel to whatever the hell Cloud Atlas is, exist in the same Mitchell-verse, which is maybe also the us-verse. Maybe the ends will be tied together in a wholly satisfying way, someday — with the next novel, or the one after that. I trust Mitchell enough to keep on reading.
After all, as the final line of The Bone Clocks tells us, in pure Mitchell-ian ambiguous cheek: “For a voyage to begin, another one must end, sort of.”