David Mitchell

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence; a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq; a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list; a teenage runaway who is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena; a cabal of dangerous mystics and their enemies – these are some of the characters in David Mitchell’s acclaimed new novel, The Bone Clocks. As in his previous five novels, Mitchell rearranges time and space – transporting readers through six different worlds, from the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future – to tell the interlocking stories of his far-flung characters.

In his trademark style, he plays with literary genres and the contours of reality to address deep moral questions: In this case the Faustian bargain of eternal life in exchange for a child’s life.

In his rapturous review in The New York Times Book Review, Pico Iyer observes: “A deeply English writer born at the tail end of the 1960s, Mitchell began remaking fiction to his (extraterrestrial) specifications with his dazzling debut, “Ghostwritten,” just before the turn of the millennium. Its nine disparate stories spin across eight countries, delivered with the dash and immediacy of a born storyteller, but seeded with just a hint of the idea that they’re all in fact connected, and about the transmigration of the soul. In Cloud Atlas, his third novel, Mitchell carried his intricate structuring even farther — some would say too far — to fashion a U-shaped series of interlocking stories that explored the idea of “eternal recurrence” all the way to a futuristic Korea and a post-apocalyptic world and back again. Having stretched language and narrative almost to the breaking point, he pulled back in his next one, Black Swan Green, a resplendently textured coming-of-age story, set in England in 1982, about a 13-year-old boy whose super-alert sensitivity one could easily mistake for David Mitchell’s. Now, in his sixth novel, he’s brought together the time-capsule density of his eyes-wide-open adventure in traditional realism with the death-defying ambitions of Cloud Atlas until all borders between pubby England and the machinations of the undead begin to blur.”

In her Telegraph review, Joanna Kavenna says that Mitchell “writes with scintillating verve and abundance. The joyful, consoling world of Mitchell is the world of childhood, where the parameters between reality and fantasy are fluid; the overall effect is like literary regression therapy for adults who have been whipped and abused by real life. The reader is kind to Mitchell, I suspect, because he is so painstakingly kind to the reader. In The Bone Clocks, Mitchell is also doing what all ambitious writers do: writing the same novel over and over again, improving it every time. Yet with each novel, he has more freedom; the reader trusts him, will follow him wherever he goes.”

The result is an ambitious, absorbing work, already on the Man Booker Prize longlist, which the Guardian’s Steven Poole describes as “possibly his best novel yet.”

David Mitchell’s Top Ten List

I just wrote these down while I was eating my breakfast cereal. Sometimes first instincts can be 'truer' than lengthy deliberation. I've instituted a Wild Card at the end of the list. The Wild Card denotes a book which I can't in all honesty claim is greater or weightier or of more significance to the marching ballroom of literature than the items on the main list, but which I badly want to be read more. You seem to be the sort of person who will sympathise...

1. The Duel by Anton Chekhov (1891).
2. 1984 by George Orwell (1948).
3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899).
4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811).
5. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1966).
6. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930).
7. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749).
8. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1964).
9. W, or The Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec (1975).
10. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943–48).
Wild Card: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926).