I’m still pondering James Wood’s rather unenthusiastic review of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks.
I read the review about an hour ago and now that I’ve had a chance to shower and clear my head, I’d like to get some thoughts down, try to sum up why I think Mr. Wood—and a number of other critics—have missed the point. Let me make clear, I have nothing against Wood, I think he’s a thoughtful, articulate reviewer, a smart man…I just don’t always agree with him.
There’s a taint, if I can put it like that, to his review, a whiff of innuendo. Mitchell’s a good storyteller, he allows, and The Bone Clocks is admittedly “entertaining”, but…
Well, apparently, The Bone Clocks lacks coherence, there’s a dearth of human significance and, then, near the conclusion of his critique, Mr. Wood finally lets the mask slip and his biases show:
“Gradually, the reader begins to understand that the realism—the human activity—is relatively unimportant…the emphasis is shifted away from the human characters toward the supernatural goings on, and the human characters become mere decoders of the peculiar mystery that has befallen them: detectives of drivel. The fantasy rigs the narrative, so that there is something wearingly formulaic whenever Mitchell stages, as he regularly does, a spot of ‘realistic’ skepticism.”
I’m not sure how much fantastic fiction Mr. Wood has read but he must be aware of some of its noble practitioners, Kafka and Borges, Maupassant and Poe. While Mr. Wood opines that “supernatural” skullduggery detracts from the human story, I wonder if he would say the same thing if he was reading a novel or short story by one of the authors I just cited.
What I like most about Mr. Mitchell’s work is that it refuses to acknowledge genre constraints; he delights in playing with tropes and is fearless about introducing SFnal elements to his narratives, creating a vast and varied universe that astonishes literally at every turn.
Mr. Wood’s final assertion, that The Bone Clocks is a “theological allegory”, reflecting a “bleak Gnosticism” must have made the author laugh out loud.
Really, Mr. Wood?
I suspect David Mitchell’s bookshelves are extensive and a good deal more eclectic than James Wood’s. He (Mitchell) is also of a generation whose childhood was enlivened by tales of the mysterious and macabre, whether in books, movies or on TV. From “Dan Dare” to “Dr. Who”; Lord of the Rings to the magic of Ray Harryhausen. All of those influences going into the creative hopper…and what emerges is a mashup that doesn’t discriminate between “literary” and “genre” fiction, employing elements of both, worshipping at the altar of neither.
Maybe that’s why a number of science fiction scribes I know are less than approving of Mr. Mitchell’s body of work. They think he’s nicking their best material without giving due credit, while some of literary crowd (like James Wood) would accuse him of slumming every time he goes off reservation and presents them with a “bad-faith tussle with a fantastic assailant who has already won”.
I’ll admit, initially I found the supernatural elements in The Bone Clocks a bit off-putting. I’d read no reviews or advance articles on the novel, not wanting to risk spoilers (and you won’t find any in this piece, I promise). The book startled me, intrigued me, then absolutely drew me in. Imagine a collaboration between Jonathan Carroll and Thomas Pynchon, both operating at the top of their form. There are conspiracies and mazes and secret societies and psychic shootouts…but, sorry, I swore I wouldn’t ruin the fun for you.
If The Bone Clocks was a song, it would have “crossover hit” written on it in big, block letters. The novel defies mere description and resists being slotted into any safe, comfortable niche.
Like its author, it is ambitious, ridiculously intelligent, culturally attuned, charming, witty and serenely confident.
David Mitchell is a marvel.
He’s managed to surprise us, yet again.
What a guy.
I’ve okayed the proof and now one hundred copies of my short story collection Exceptions & Deceptions are jetting my way.
Should be able to start filling orders within a week—and I’ve already received numerous inquiries.
Click on the “Book Store” tab at the top of the page or go here for ordering details.
Support an indie publisher and get a head start on your summer reading.
And I promise: you’re going to love this book…
(Click on image to enlarge)
Iain M. Banks
Resquescat in pace.
Looks like it’s still going to be 2-3 weeks before the physical copies of my new short story collection arrive.
Once again, it seems the geeks have an advantage over the rest of us. If you don’t want to wait for the “dead tree edition”, you can buy either the Kindle or e-book version of Exceptions & Deceptions and fire it up on your tablet or gear of choice.
Available today. Right now. Just point your cursor and…click.
Amazon has their version up and running and another joint called Lybrary.com has an e-Pub version ready for downloading (which can be viewed on most reading devices). I imagine Powell’s Books and Barnes & Noble will both be selling e-versions of Exceptions & Deceptions very soon as well.
Those of you wanting to lay your hands on an actual book, alas, must wait a little longer.
Patience, my children. As I type this a proof is winging its way to my mailbox and from there we go straight into production.
I’m as anxious as an expectant father with a pocketful of cigars…
Once back at my place she plays it coy scuttling under the couch until I menace her with a can of Raid using it to steer her toward the bedroom antennae twitching in excitement crawling up the edge of my bedspread chittering as I run my fingers along her polished carapace stroking her thorax her withered ornamental wings fluttering mandibles dug into my pillow in insectile ecstasy while I prepare to mount her probing for anything resembling a vagina wondering if she uses protection and if not if the pupa will look anything like me.
* * * * *
I’m not going back to you. I’m gone. I’m outta here. You won’t find me. It’ll be like we never met. Just another face in the crowd. On a forgotten street. In a strange country. One of the disappeared. Yeah. Lost in time and space. I wasn’t born in the first place. Back to the womb. Stillborn. No. Aborted. A puddle of pink flesh. Gristle and blood. Dumped in an incinerator. Reduced to ash. Floating in the troposphere. Burned by the sun. Ultraviolet radiation. A cancer on your body.
* * * * *
These are two of my favorite short prose pieces, excerpted from my recently released volume Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).
For ordering information, please go here.
Photo credit: Sherron Burns
I’ve kind of lost my zest for performing my stuff live but I started going, hoping it would encourage my two sons, both talented writers, and their friends to contribute. I love it when a visibly nervous teen author stands in front of us and, voice quaking, reads a poem or short story. Takes me back to the days when I—
Well, never mind.
I always try to have new material for the “open mike” and this time premiered three pieces that even my wife hadn’t heard before. Here are the four offerings I read last night, including “Accident”, which appeared on this blog a couple of years ago but, what the heck, thought I’d reprint it anyway (it read beautifully):
This is a car crash. It’s happening right now. A collision in progress. Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats. And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max. You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it. Something else. A heaviness. In the region of your chest. A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be. A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born. From the backseat. Ten A.U.’s behind you. Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations. Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying. On the threshold of an instant. The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.
November is bleeding,
leached of color, vitality,
the land losing its life’s blood
in dark, spreading gouts.
Anemic, cancerous, brittle,
tiny bones crackling underfoot:
this is the graveyard of summer.
Brightening it with festive lights,
disguising it with tinsel, false cheer
but unable to defeat the oppression,
looming like a storm front.
Hibernation is a state between life and death,
a sleep from which some animals never wake–
another hard winter descends from the mountains,
the sun creeping back to make way.
“When that love was done with, I was left like a bird on a branch. I was no longer any use for anything.” Paul Eluard & Andre Breton, The Immaculate Conception (Translation by Jon Graham)
I am that bird/a useless, futile thing/purposeless and unblinking/stiffly clutched on my shivering perch
Denied foresight, stratagems/creature of instinct, heedless/as scattered petals or blown seed/no decisions, save alarm and flight
like the lilies of the field
like the trees and stones,
or a worm, turning in thick, black dirt
Free from striving and strife/charged only with existence/descended from dinosaurs/ small-brained and tuned to the stars
Waking you with piercing melodies/disdainful of the tardy dawn/spying with small, beady eyes/as you depart for work in a funk
Nestled against the weather/high up where the cats can’t reach/alert, yet lightly dozing/untroubled by what you call “dreams”
“My health was endangered. Terror assailed me.”
Arthur Rimbaud, on the writing of Illuminations
Franz Kafka insisted we should only read books that “bite and sting us”. Volumes, one presumes, capable of savaging unwary readers, leaving them spotted with blood. Kafka, a gentle man, left strict instructions in his will that his writings be burned. His executor, Max Brod, ignored his friend’s wishes and preserved his distinctive novels and stories; as a result, each year I risk serious injury plucking them from my shelves.
Words created us and words sustain us:
“The technical language of religion is
symbolism, with storytelling one of its
most important varieties.”
(so sayeth Huston Smith)
Ideas become words become action. The correct conjunction of vowels and consonants will, according to some mythologies, lead to an unbinding.
A return to nullity. From whence we came.
Be mindful and compassionate. Practice right thought, right speech. Do not call the worst into being. Offer prayers to a Creator beyond faith. Use the ancient words of praise. The ones handed down through the ages. Hallowed be thy name, o, God, thy will be done…
When I finished reading, Sherron was beaming.
Snuck in under the eight-minute time limit too.
Thanks to all the participants and audience members. See you at my book launch on Wednesday!
(Photo by Zach Den Adel)