Thursday, June 19, 2014

David Mitchell's Influences

This is not a review of David Mitchell's new novel, The Bone Clocks, which I finished yesterday. I'm reviewing The Bone Clocks for the newspaper in September and I'll reread it & write a comprehensive review then. No, this is a blog post about what I think are main influences on the book. I will say in parenthesis that I thought the novel was very good and quite the change of pace from his last work, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which was a historical romance set in eighteenth century Japan. 
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Like Thousand Autumns, The Bone Clocks takes place in a world the reader initially thinks is our own but which isn't quite our Earth because of the existence of magic. In brief The Bones Clocks is about a cult of immortals with magical powers who provide the link between a series of long sections told from the perspective of different characters. Temporally the novel runs from the mid 1980's to the middle of the twenty first century. In Latin America these types of novels are known as magical realism but David Mitchell's writing is very dry, sceptical and English and not really anything like the works of the magical realist bigwigs such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende (but it does owe a debt to the intellectual and speculative ideas of Jorge Luis Borges). 
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Mitchell was born in 1969 so he's a little bit younger than me, but he grew up in 70's Britain and now lives in rural Ireland so we've got something of the same cultural background. Where Mitchell leaves me behind however is the 15 years he spent living in Japan which has had a profound influence on his style. Much of Mitchell's recent writing reminds me of the work of the Japanese master Haruki Murakami with the strong visual influence of manga and the cinema of Hayao Miyazaki.
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Other influences that I can sniff out in The Bone Clocks are Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Thomas Pynchon, Kinglsey and Martin Amis (The Alteration & Time's Arrow) Michael Moorcock, Iain Banks, Philip K Dick and of course JG Ballard.
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Like I say I'm not allowed to review The Bone Clocks here but if all this sounds like an interesting and heady mix to you you can pre-order The Bone Clocks now at all good bookshops or at the usual online outlets.  
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One more thing, if you don't mind a slight spoiler and you really enjoyed 1000 Autumns of Jacob De Zoet highlight the following hidden text: Dr Marinus from Jacob is a character in Bone Clocks...dont ask me how - that wd be telling.

17 comments:

seana graham said...

It sounds a bit like Cloud Atlas in its span of time. That's the only one I've read, so I can wait for this one to come out. The one I most want to read next is the non-fiction one he did about his autistic son.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I've read all the Mitchell books. There's a distinct strain of fantasy/science fiction in his writing. I dont think this one is quite as good as Cloud Atlas.

seana graham said...

Speaking of Philip Roth (a post or so ago), what do you think of Sabbath's Theatre? I just read it for a reading group I'm in. The responses were all over the place. It's a fairly difficult book to read if you are a woman, but I think we had a pretty interesting discussion as a result of it, which is always the thing you want in a book group. Well, that and wine.

I've been looking at a video interview Roth did about it and other things and I was happy to see that I was pretty much on the same page with what he was doing.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I'm afraid "I have read everything" McKinty hasnt read that one.

Alan said...

Adrian,I want to first tackle "Thousand Autumns" and with your recommendations it and the"Bone Clocks" will be read.When you mentioned Japan I think many have read Shogun a fine story with much incite into a very unique culture. Yet to me I felt Musashi by Yoshikawa captured the spirit of an adaptive but highly nationalistic culture with very strong disciplined spirit.It is a pity that hymns to warriors albeit reluctant ones "Chanson De Roland" and Malory's " Le Morte D'Arthur" seem to trump stories of peaceful creativity or the universalist spirit of a Victor Hugo.Best Alan

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavin said...

Alan,

I liked "1000 Autumns", but they didn't blow me away the same way that "Ghostwritten" or "Cloud Atlas" did. They're tours de force in a way that I think the more straightforward "1000 Autumns" really isn't.

Adrian,

Not sure I see the Murakami influence, though I like both him and Mitchell very much. Maybe it's because I'm in the middle of "Number9Dream" right now, which is in-your-face in a way that the quieter Murakami doesn't do. (Note that I still haven't read "1Q84," which I think is more overtly science-fictiony than the bulk of his other work.)

Gavin

seana graham said...

You will be surprised to find me talking about the World Cup, but as we're talking about the Japanese, I was rather touched to learn last night that the Japanese response to defeat in the contest was for the Japanese fans to clean up the stands. Not perhaps the warrior spirit, but a sensibility we westerners could do with a bit more of. And frankly the twentieth century probably saw a little too much of the warrior side of the Japanese anyway.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Thousand Autumns is pretty controversial in Japan - some people say its a rather mean version of Shinto that gets represented.

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

You're in for a treat then if you read IQ84 and immediately after tackle the new David Mitchell. I think you'll enjoy the thematic similarities.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I got up early to watch Uruguay trounce England. Very enjoyable. I like England and I like English people but till my dying day I will always cheer against them in football and rugby (the only sports that count).

The fact that Suarez got both goals made it all the sweeter.

seana graham said...

I've always sort of known when the World Cup is on because I know a fair number of soccer enthusiasts. But I feel like its popularity is making some new ground in the U.S. this year. Even Google has its little World Cup cartoons over the search box each day. Is it that all those kids who played soccer on Saturdays in childhood here have finally kept the interest into adulthood? Or is it just easier than ever to watch the game on some device or other?

Gavin said...

Adrian

Unfortunately, 1Q84 is staring at me intimidatingly from my bookshop in its big 3 volumes (it looks longer than "Windup Bird", which has taken me forever to read). Hoping to get to it soon, though...

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Its definitely becoming bigger in the US now. I think it'll grow as the Latino and Asian populations grow. And MLS has helped too. I went to a couple of very well attended Seattle games the year before last.

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

Its a fast read though. IQ84 I mean. A little bit harrowing in places (child abuse etc) but its not at all off putting stylistically. Once you start you'll probably read it in a week.

seana graham said...

I do like the global aspects of the game.

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