Astounding, what David Mitchell can put into one book. His new book, The bone clocks, contains six separate stories that only obliquely connect with each other. What connects them is the character Holly Sykes. She plays a part in all the stories, sometimes as the main character and sometimes in a side role. Holly is the key to getting through the labyrinth that is The bone clocks.
I write labyrinth, because underlying the bigger story is a fantasy subplot that stays well-buried for a long time. To go into detail on this would be spoiling the fun of reading, but the main idea is there’s a long-lasting struggle between good and evil, outside the view of ordinary people. It has to do with souls and time, death and reincarnation; quite interesting stuff really. Reading these scenes I even had an occasional Harry Potter association, something I hadn’t expected in a David Mitchell novel, but as a Potter-fan could appreciate.
These imaginative parts are juxtaposed with moments of highly descriptive realism. An undercover journalist during the 2004 Iraq invasion becomes the exciting point of view for a while. On the heels of this journalist a middle-aged writer suddenly takes centre-stage and we follow his failing struggle to write a book as brilliant as his debut. The confusion after a Baghdad suicide attack, or the powerplay behind the scenes of a literary festival, Mitchell masterfully describes it all.
His style of writing is why I read literature. He has such a grasp of language that he always uses the word you don’t expect. Cliché phrases he throws around to make them fresh again, for example changing the expression 'the shit hits the fan' into 'Shit, meet Fan. Fan, this is Shit' (p. 48). I constantly had a pencil ready to write down another unexpected reference or underline a funny sentence.
Stylistically, reading Mitchell is as always pure enjoyment. Structurally, this book was a bit of a struggle I must admit. I enjoyed the many stories in The bone clocks (Mitchell is great in telling a story within a story), I liked following Holly Sykes throughout the book and I was intrigued by the fantasy parts in between. Yet, as a whole I don’t know what to make of it, it doesn’t really glue together.
It is not Cloud atlas or The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet then, but it is the new David Mitchell. And reading a David Mitchell book is always a feast, whether we completely follow him or not.

2 February 2015

Sceptre, 2014
595 pages




Comments

When I'm in a foreign place I like to visit bookshops and ask a bookseller what he or she would recommend to me. A little based on my preferences (I like many things anyway) but mostly based on the bookseller's. In Cluj-Napoca I came upon a science fiction fan. A young guy, probably a student in that city, who spoke good english. After checking out some of their literary fiction we quickly ended up in front of their science fiction section. I wanted a stand-alone book, so Frank Herbert's Dune series was discarded (although that would, in other circumstances, have been a candidate). In the end, a tie between Philip K. Dick's Ubik and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. Both philosophical science fiction novels; more about ideas than stereotypical plots. Ubik's first page was unreadable so Solaris it had to be (also because in doubt I go for Eastern European). The bookseller was pretty enthusiastic about Solaris. An intellectual puzzle ánd the basis for a cult movie by Andrei Tarkovsky. Perhaps that movie is better. Perhaps Solaris was too different after The art of fielding. Perhaps George Clooney on the cover doesn't help (he stars in the Steven Soderbergh movie version, not the Tarkovsky one). I certainly devoted many hours to reading it. Maybe not as many as reading the Art, but it felt as much; and that for a 200 page book. But I didn't get it, I didn't get it at all. Some online reviews mentioned that the English translation I read is a secondary one, first Polish to French, then French to English. That could explain why it read so hard. Despite the translation, almost half of the book is unreadable scientific talk about past research on the enigmatic planet Solaris. I liked some of the bits about the main character (I kept seeing George Clooney in my head), stuck in the research center on the planet. His two fellow scientists are already mostly crazy and he's quickly losing his mind too. Solarisplays with people's minds. That's interesting enough. Just the lack of a driving plot, the boring scientific passages; it didn't seem to go anywhere. Perhaps this is one of those books I should put away without finishing, spend my time on a book I actually like. But then again, I almost never do.

5 October 2012

Faber and Faber, 2003
Original title Solaris, 1961
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox



Comments

Nadat ik een paar maanden geleden al aangenaam verrast was door Maus van Art Spiegelman, was het nu Logicomix dat de graphic novel van z’n beste kant liet zien. Je zou het eigenlijk een schets van het leven van filosoof Bertrand Russell moeten noemen, gekruist met een overzicht van enkele belangrijke ontwikkelingen in de wiskunde en de logica uit zijn tijd. Klinkt saai? Wellicht. Maar ik heb in tijden niet zo snel achter elkaar doorgelezen, zo spannand was die logica. Er gaat een aanstekelijk vertelplezier van dit boek uit en een oprechte wil tot weten. Ik moet uitkijken, straks word ik nog fan van graphic novels.

1 Mei 2010

Comments

Certainly not for style, but for themes and plot a definite must read. Started in Holland, but finished on a hot night in Valencia. It's a fascinating tale of vanity, corruption and paranoia that generally makes for an exciting read, despite the fact that quite a few scenes read slowly.

28 June 2009

Comments

A quirky science fiction novel, or rather a philosophical novel disguised as science fiction. A man suddenly finds himself on another planet and meets a number of human-like creatures that all represent some idea or other. During the man's quest for answers most of these creatures die, until finally he too dies and becomes someone else. Unlike anything I've read before, certainly. I kind of enjoyed it though; it's weird, written in a clunky style and with a vague ending, but it's some intriguing food for thought.

12 May 2009

Comments

Very nice book indeed, both to read and to have read. It is fast-moving, going from one absurd scene to the next. Throughout Alice meets a host of (mostly unfriendly) people and creatures. It's nice to know what people mean when they mention the Mad Hatter's tea party (whose picture is also on a few Genesis records by the way). Good for the Bildung of an English student and quite enjoyable as well.

23 July 2008

Comments

Voor The Waves, echter, een kort intermezzo van eigen bodem; gelezen naar, in en vanuit Roemenië. Erasmus' bekendste werk is erudiet (in verantwoorde humanistische traditie; > 300 noten), bij tijd en wijle zeer komisch en soms spijkerhard. Bijna al het goeds zit in het tweede deel, dat wel. Stimulerend en vermakelijk werkje, goed om gelezen te hebben.

31 Maart 2008

Het Spectrum, 1972
Oorspronkelijke titel Laus Stultitiae, 1511
Vertaald door A.J. Hiensch



Comments

Reading Candide is like eating a meal that's both tasteful and healthy. You feel you're absorbing a compact treasure of philosophic thought, whilst rushing through a highly enjoyable tale. I guess Voltaire must have paid close attention to Horace's adagium of combining 'utile et dulce' and I give him all my credit for it.

16 November 2007

Penguin Books, 2005
Original title Candide, ou l'optimisme, 1759
Translated by Theo Cuffe



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