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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: David Mitchell, take two

Young Digital Reporter Jack Clare gives us his own take on our David Mitchell event at RNCM…

So the lights went down and then a man came on stage. He did an introduction, but I can’t really remember what he said because I was too busy marveling at his facial hair. It was a moustache and chin beard combo which made him look like a magician. It was great. I resolved there and then to work it into the article somehow, even if it was completely irrelevant. So now I have. (Eds: this was host Matthew Frost, one of Manchester’s tonsorial treasures.)

Now the actual thing which I’m supposed to be writing about; David Mitchell and his new book, The Bone Clocks. The book spans the life of Holly Sykes, from her adolescence to old age, and tells the stories of a few people who she encounters; an undergraduate sociopath, a war correspondent and a self-obsessed writer. These stories are blended with elements of fantasy which enabled him to bypass the ‘cliché wall’, to use his own words.

I’ve not read The Bone Clocks yet, it was my experience of another of his works – Cloud Atlas – that made me want to attend. I really liked Cloud Atlas. Each of the stories was compelling and well written, my favourite being the story of a young composer called Frobisher. Frobisher was just great fun to read, and I’m sure he must have been great fun to write. He was morally ambiguous, the kind of guy that jumps out of a hotel window to avoid paying, and yet I was still fully on his side. Not to mention that he was given some of the book’s most insightful lines of dialogue (‘Science devises ever bloodier means of war until humanity’s powers of destruction overcome our powers of creation and our civilization drives itself to extinction’).

Firstly there was a reading a small segment from The Bone Clocks in which a war correspondent loses his child in a seaside town. I was rather surprised by the conventional nature of this excerpt. However, he soon explained that the book changes tone and genre many times and anything he would read from it would not give the entire picture.

During the Q&A he touched upon many subjects. One of the more hilarious parts of the talk was David’s account of going to an academic conference where the subject was, wait for it… David Mitchell. (During the conference one of the speakers used the word metafiction and he shouted ‘Rubbish!’ at them). They also talked about cultural references within his works, such as Talking Heads. One astute fan even managed to spot a sneaky reference to Kate Bush (Mrs MacIntosh) in the acknowledgements for The Bone Clocks.

The final question was a great finish. A rather confused man listed off a number of strange occurrences within the book before manically posing the question ‘What are you doing?!’. David’s answer was that he didn’t know.

The event has made me want to revisit Cloud Atlas, and read The Bone Clocks, because it has reminded me just why it is that David Mitchell is so celebrated. He demonstrates that genre isn’t just the refuge of hacks; genre can also be used to create great art.


Image credit Michelle Castalletti via Twitter.