The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks

First UK edition
Author David Mitchell
Cover artist Neal Murren
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Drama
Publisher Sceptre
Publication date
2 September 2014 [1]
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 609
ISBN 0-340-92160-9

The Bone Clocks is a novel by British writer David Mitchell. It was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014,[2] and called one of the best novels of 2014 by Stephen King.[3] The novel won the 2015 World Fantasy Award.

The novel is divided into six sections with five point-of-view first-person narrators. They are loosely connected by the character of Holly Sykes, a young woman from Gravesend who is gifted with an "invisible eye" and semi-psychic abilities and a war between two immortal factions, the Anchorites, who derive their immortality from murdering others, and the Horologists, who are naturally able to reincarnate.

The title refers to a pejorative term that the immortal characters of the book use to refer to regular humans who are doomed to mortality because of their aging bodies.


The book consists of the following six stories that are set in different times of Holly’s life:

A Hot Spell, 1984

Fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes runs away from home to live with her twenty-four-year-old boyfriend. Before she leaves, her younger brother Jacko hands her a maze and tells her to memorize it. Arriving at her boyfriend's home Holly finds him in bed with her best friend. She nevertheless decides to keep running away and meets an older woman called Esther Little who gives her green tea in exchange for "asylum" which Holly consents to thinking she's insane. Holly, who was once plagued by auditory hallucinations, then has a violent daymare involving her brother Jacko and several of the violent voices she recognizes from childhood. Afterwards she encounters Ed Brubeck, an acquaintance, who feeds her and helps shelter her. He talks about working on a strawberry farm in Kent. Holly decides to go to the farm and, after securing a job by phone, hitchhikes towards the farm. She is picked up by a young college-aged couple, Heidi and Ian, who believe in communism and who take her to their home. After breakfast Holly washes up and then goes outside where she finds the couple dead. She is then attacked by a man called Rhîmes who mistakes her for Esther Little but soon comes to realize she has no powers at all. Rhîmes then tries to kill Holly but is stopped by the reanimated corpse of first Heidi and later Ian. Holly realizes that Ian is in fact Esther Little who has come to claim sanctuary. Esther embeds herself in Holly's brain but erases the incident from her memory.

Holly makes her way to the strawberry farm. While there she hears the news of Heidi and Ian's death but is unable to connect it with herself. She meets a young woman called Gwyn who says that she was once a runaway too and that unless things are violently bad she should return home. While Holly is considering it, Ed Brubeck arrives having guessed where she is and tells her she needs to return home as Jacko is missing and the police are not treating the case seriously as they believe he is with Holly.

Myrrh Is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume, 1991

In 1991 amoral University of Cambridge student Hugo Lamb encounters a beautiful woman who calls herself Immaculée Constantin and tells him that immortality is possible. Hugo then blacks out for several hours. He later gives money to a homeless man who follows him home and reveals himself to be Immaculée Constantin. Hugo persuades himself that the encounters were his own imagination. He then goes to Switzerland for the Christmas holidays where an attractive bar manager, Holly Sykes, catches his eye. On January 1, 1992 he receives a call from his father telling him that the police are looking for him, which he suspects is related to his theft of a series of vintage stamps from a man with Alzheimer's. Furthermore, the women that Lamb's friends slept with on New Year's Eve are prostitutes and when Lamb's friends do not pay up they have their pimps come to the house to shake the men down for money. Lamb manages to escape through the window of his room and runs into Holly Sykes who warns him there is a storm coming. He stays over night in her home and he learns about her missing brother Jacko, who never resurfaced. The morning after Holly leaves abruptly for work telling Lamb she will have no hard feelings if he decides to leave. He goes to see her at the bar but before he can he is intercepted by two men, Elijah D'Arnoq, a New Zealander, and Mr. Pfenninger. Getting into a car with them they tell Hugo that they, along with Immaculée Constantin, are Anchorites, a group capable of telepathy as well as putting people on "hiatus" (i.e. causing time gaps and memory loss) and stopping the ageing process. Having vetted Lamb and finding him devious and amoral they offer to let him join them.

The Wedding Bash, 2004

Ed Brubeck, now a thirty-five-year-old war journalist, returns to England for Holly's younger sister's wedding. A war junkie, he had initially planned to move back to London to settle down with Holly and their six-year-old daughter Aoife, but secretly plans to return to Baghdad instead. While out for a walk he and Aoife encounter Immaculée Constantin who checks to see if Aoife has an invisible eye as her mother once did and, finding she does not, disappears.

During the wedding Ed is lost in the memories of his time in Iraq working with Aziz and Nassar, two Iraqis who take him into territory dangerous for foreigners and help him with interviews and photos. After dropping him off at his hotel they are murdered by a suicide bomber targeting the hotel where the foreign-born journalists live. Ed feels intense guilt over their deaths.

After the wedding, settling down with Aoife for a nap, Ed is awakened by Holly and realizes that Aoife has gone missing. The two split up to find her with Ed going to the Brighton Pier believing Aoife has gone in search of a fortune-teller she saw earlier, Dwight Silverwind. Silverwind has not seen Aoife but goes with Ed back to the hotel to try to find her. When they arrive Holly has a fit during which she intones the words "Ten" and "Fifteen". Silverwind suggests to Ed that Holly might be psychic, something which Ed has noticed in Holly before but has never previously believed. However he grabs the room key to 1015 and goes there where he does in fact find Aoife. He makes up a story for the rest of Holly's family about how he was able to find Aoife but tells Holly the truth.

Crispin Hershey’s Lonely Planet, 2015

From 2015 to 2020 author Crispin Hershey, once a literary wunderkind, sees his fortunes decline. His latest novel did not sell well thanks to a pan by critic Richard Cheeseman (a friend of Hugo Lamb) and at a book fair he is upstaged by new author Holly Sykes who has written an immensely popular book about her psychic visions called The Radio People. Richard also encounters a young Asian woman who introduces herself as Soleil Moore, who hands him a book of her poetry which he promptly trashes. In Colombia, Crispin decides to get his revenge on Richard by putting cocaine in his suitcase and phoning in with a tip. Only intending to humiliate Richard he is horrified when Richard is sentenced to six years in Colombian prison.

As Crispin tours the globe he encounters Holly several more times, each time becoming more persuaded that she is not lying about her abilities. In Shanghai she correctly predicts the results of a coin toss ten times in a row, astonishing Crispin. She also warns him that whenever she is near him she thinks of "A spider, a spiral, a one-eyed man." He also receives another book from Soleil which he also disposes of.

As the years pass Crispin and Holly grow close and become good friends. On a trip to visit her in Iceland he is attacked by Hugo Lamb who interrogates him about Holly, Esther Little, and what she knows about Horologists and Anchorites. Finding Crispin's answers satisfactory Hugo then wipes his memory. Later during the trip Crispin learns that Holly has cancer and likely has very little time to live.

By 2020 Crispin, now heavily in debt, is teaching at an Ivy League college (fictional, but resembling Bard College[4]) in the Hudson Valley, New York. He is visited by Richard, wearing an eyepatch, who confronts him about what he did and tells him he spent his time in jail fantasising about killing Crispin. Ultimately Richard leaves without having touched Crispin. He is then visited by Soleil Moore, whom he does not remember and who is horrified that he has not read the works she gave him. She tells him he is part of "the Script" and that humans are being used and abused by higher beings and she hoped that Crispin would help her publish her works so that they would become widespread knowledge. She then goes to Plan B and shoots Crispin, knowing that the murder will make her and her work infamous. Before he dies, Crispin sees spirals on the carpet, a spider on the ceiling and a toy pirate, thus completing Holly's prophecy.

An Horologist’s Labyrinth, 2025

In 2025 Marinus, the doctor who once cured Holly of her "radio people", begins to receive messages from Esther Little who she had previously believed dead. Through her messages Marinus realizes that Esther Little has been stowed away in Holly. Marinus contacts Holly, who survived her cancer, and reveals that she is part of a group of "atemporals" who call themselves Horologists. Atemporals are beings who are naturally immortal and either come back 49 days after the death of their previous host body into the body of a child who was already dying, or are able to transfer their souls into dying children when new bodies wear out, unlike the Anchorites who achieve their immortality by draining the souls of psychically gifted children into something called "Black Wine" which halts the ageing process. Holly is naturally skeptical but after she is almost killed by a group of Anchorites she decides to work with Marinus and the Horologists. Marinus is able to find Esther in Holly's memory and extract her by saying her whole long name which is a compilation of all the names she has ever had throughout her various lifetimes. They then make a plan to go to the Chapel of the Blind Cathar, where the Anchorites worship, in order to try to destroy their icon and thus the source of the Anchorites' power.

Believing that Xi Lo aka Jacko is still in the temple, Holly accompanies them. The Horologists engage in a "psychosoteric" war with the Anchorites that kills many of the Horologists but manages to buy Esther Little enough time to destroy the Blind Cathar. Marinus' body is destroyed, but he climbs inside Holly's mind and is able to protect her this way. As the chapel is crumbling around them, an opening appears and Holly goes through it. She realizes that the space is actually the maze that Jacko gave her in 1984 and asked her to memorize and is able to find her way through. Along the way she and Marinus are stopped by Immaculée Constantin who threatens to destroy them with her mental powers. Marinus manages to distract her long enough for Holly to club her with a rolling pin. At the centre of the maze is a golden apple. Marinus leaves Holly and asks her to touch it, transporting her to safety. Marinus realizes she has been left behind with Hugo Lamb who admits that the reason he did not take the golden apple and leave Holly to die was because he truly loved Holly during their brief encounter together. Just as they are about to die, Marinus realizes there is another possible way for them to escape.

Sheep’s Head, 2043

Holly is now living in Sheep's Head, Ireland five years after a period called the Endarkenment during which climate change brought about a depletion of resources and people are now forced to live off of the land combined with government rationing. Holly is taking care of her teenage granddaughter Lorelei, orphaned after the death of her parents in a plane crash, and an orphaned young boy called Rafiq. Despite the fact that the rest of Europe is suffering terribly, Ireland is relatively stable due to the fact that the Chinese have brokered a deal with them, giving them oil and sporadic internet usage, for leasing some of their land. However the Chinese abruptly pull their resources and, despite promises that the Irish government will be able to keep things stable, a mix of government and militiamen invade the town, taking solar panels and oil. Over an argument on how to split their resources, the invaders begin shooting at each other, sparing most of the locals and leaving them time to form a small militia of their own.

In the meantime, a military vessel arrives asking for Holly Sykes by name. The vessel reveals that it is from Iceland, where law and order still prevails, and has been sent to repatriate Lorelei, whose father was from Iceland. One of the crew members is revealed to be the reincarnated Marinus. Holly asks him to use his powers of mind control to take Rafiq with Lorelei as he is diabetic and his insulin is running out. Marinus reveals that he has just enough skill to get the Icelandic soldiers to take both Lorelei and Rafiq with him, but Holly must be left behind. Holly says goodbye to her grandchildren knowing she will likely never see them in person again.


Allusions/references to other works

The Bone Clocks contains characters from other works by Mitchell, following precedents set in his earlier novels. In interviews leading up to the release of this novel, Mitchell described this shared universe as an "uber-novel".[5]


  1. "The Bone Clocks". UK: Amazon. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
  2. "The Bone Clocks". The Man Booker prize. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
  3. Greene, Andy (October 31, 2014), "Stephen King", Rolling Stone (interview).
  5. "In Bone Clocks, David Mitchell ties his universes together". LA Times. Retrieved 2014-09-06.
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