Review: David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

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Wow, what a ride this book was and, I think, with supernatural themes that are appropriate to me reviewing around Halloween.

I was lucky enough to win a proof copy of this book, signed by David Mitchell, before it came out. But due to final year deadlines and dissertations I only got around to reading it last month and the wait was definitely worth it.

The blurb got me really excited for the book because although I’m not a big lover of fantasy stories, I do enjoy the mysterious and otherworldly – the extraordinary found hiding within the mundane – that’s exactly what Bone Clocks is. The beginning is so distinctly normal about an Irish teenage girl in the 70s throwing a wobbler and deciding to run away from home for a few days just to scare her family, I found it difficult to see how it could develop into the supernatural or otherworldly story of the ‘Radio People’. But that’s why I enjoyed the book, the everyday settings which are so normal to us that we barely notice them allows the possibility for a whole other world to be hiding right under our noses and we have no idea.

It is almost as if you cannot disbelief it entirely because you can see the normality which the supernatural hides behind and how easy it would be to pass unnoticed, particularly in a time when we all walk around with our heads in our mobile devices.That’s why the book is not just about the supernatural because it’s not just some ghost story, it’s otherworldliness is far more complex than that.

My only issue with the book is that the length of it sometimes means that you recognise a character’s name from about 300 pages ago but because so much has happened since and so many decades and realms have been passed through, it’s sometimes easy to forget exactly who that character is or how they came up before. I often found myself flicking back through the book to find the character to make the story links. Also I found myself in the last quarter of the book often pausing in between chapters to make sense of the story as all the various threads were finally starting to unravel and come together.

I wouldn’t say the complexity is a negative though. It requires your constant attention while you’re reading it but it isn’t too much that you would find it impossible to follow. The complexity and various threads and stories only adds to the almost haunting element that so much supernatural powers could be living parallel with normal human lives and Holly Sykes makes a very interesting boundary or medium between the two.

The fact that the female protagonists story is followed through the years to the ultimate rise and fall of civilised society and fossil fuels is a very haunting story because it runs close enough to our own timeframes and our own futures to make us seriously question the future of technology and the human race and whether the regression of those things is something that could plausibly happen in the near future. The idea that in her lifetime Holly sees the late 20th century rise of technology and fuels then peak and destroy itself in the mid-21st century is an uncomfortably realistic plot line which grounds the supernatural element of the book.

Another great book, long listed for the 2014 Man Booker and definitely worth a read. Looking forward to reading his new book Slade House and seeings the similarities and themes between the two books.
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Series: island hopping in the Caribbean – DOMINICA

Dominica: the island that exceeded expectations.

This island was an odd one because on the one hand I was really looking forward to it – it’s where they filmed a lot of the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, particularly the bits where you see Calypso in her shack in the jungle – but I also had relatively low expectations for some reason. You’ll be pleased to know that it massively exceeded those expectations and I think I would say that it was my favourite island we visited.

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We arrived very early in the morning which gave us plenty of time to find our footing and again to assess the best option to see as much as possible – we had learnt by now that negotiating with locals for prices and trips was usually better than the pre-advertised tourist options.

There are lots of wonderful market stalls selling a range of handmade and craft items, everything from the typical woven bracelets in bright colours to intricately carved wooden bowls and vases made from bamboo. It is well worth doing a bit of shopping here but have a look over the whole market first, the ones further from the port entrance are slightly cheaper.

We eventually came to a deal with one very friendly man (after asking several prices from the eagerly waiting taxi/tour drivers) who took us in his minivan car on a tour of the island. Although it may seem strange for us to get into unregistered family-type cars for a tour, it’s important to remember that the Caribbean lifestyle and culture is far more laid back and easy going – no commercial tour firms and branded cars – just think of it this way: by choosing to do your research and take a small local or individually run tour, you’re contributing to the island’s economy NOT the huge corporate tourism travel agencies back home.

I have to say the tour and the whole day was wonderful. Our guide was so informed and intelligent about the island and didn’t just have the daily knowledge of living there. He told us the historical origins and development of the island, he had a huge knowledge of the local flora and fauna and would frequently pull over to select a piece of plant for us to examine (smell some raw cinnamon straight from the tree? check. Crack some vanilla pods for us? check.) I mean, did you know that banana plants only grow one bunch of bananas and then sprout a new plant next to it for another bunch? and if you farm bananas you must cut down the old banana tree as soon as you have harvested the bunch? Agriculture is a bigger trade on the island than tourism. Our guide had so much knowledge of the surroundings and customised the route to ensure anything we wanted to see he included on the tour.

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This was the first day of the whole trip that it had been rainy but that all seemed to be part of the island’s atmosphere which was far more tropical than other Caribbean islands. The huge hillsides covered in jungle growth were reminiscent of scenes from King Kong or Jurassic Park. And the steamy wet atmosphere was due to the amazing fact that there are 365 rivers on the island: one for everyday of the year! Our driver took us up into the hills to see small villages, he stopped on the way in a wonderful jungle roadside bar, for a beer in the rain with an amazing view of the jungle valley. He took us to the sulphur spas (they smell pretty horrendous) allowing us a walk through the jungle terrain, we also saw breath-taking views from hillside view points around the island, local botanical gardens and he delighted in telling us odd local stories like the one about a bus that was crushed under a tree during a hurricane – you can still see the bus under the tree which has now grown around it (no one was on the bus at the time, don’t worry!)

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After our incredibly informative and value-for-money tour we were recommended a bar to have a drink and of course try the local rum (what else in the Caribbbean?). The bar was called ‘Ruins’ and I 100% recommend it to anyone who visits Dominica as an absolute must visit – even if you don’t drink. It is the first road back from the main port road so very easy to find (turn right out the port entrance, then first left and it’s on the corner of the next block).

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The bar is literally Ruins. It is the ruins of an old brick building with a corrugated iron roof, colourful walls and scaffold, rustic/authentic wooden furniture with water sprays in the ceiling for the hot, humid days. There was a live music act in there, singing and on the drums doing caribbean covers of popular songs and they were amazing. Your drinks come in hollowed out bamboo cups with a coconut lid, the staff were wonderful and friendly. A definite must visit.

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Tips for Dominica:

  • Again, don’t be afraid to negotiate a deal with local tour guides waiting in the areas around the port.
  • If you are interested in the history, local culture, the flora and fauna of the island, a local tour guide really is the way to go.
  • Don’t spend all your money on souvenirs on islands like St.Barths, islands like Dominica are a lot cheaper and with a much bigger, far more authentic range of items.
  • Take a rain coat and wear trainers/comfy shoes for some jungle walking.
  • Visit the Ruins bar.

Series: Island hopping in the Caribbean – ST. KITTS

So I know this one is really behind but I’ve been working at at Literature Festival [look out for the blog post] so hopefully I’m excused!

This post is all about St. Kitts which I think I really underestimated in terms of it’s historical interest. I thought it felt really colonial from the moment we arrived at the port.

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As always it’s definitely worth taking a wander through the town to get a feel for the place. St. Kitts felt a lot less touristy once you were outside the port area and in the main town.

 

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Make sure you take a walk to Independence Square, it’s got plenty of lovely grassy areas if you fancy taking a break and picnicking in the shade of a tree.

 

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We decided to head out to one of the beaches but not one of the touristy recommended ones. We took a slightly difference approach and asked around a couple of the taxi drivers in the port area what they thought the best beach was, then we compared prices with the drivers.

I know a lot of people think this is a risky strategy putting your money in the hands of a local driver and not perhaps a tourist recommended cab company, but honestly they are not trying to rip you off. The prices we were quoted from three difference cabbies were all very reasonable and similar in price, if not cheaper to some of the tourist ‘recommended’ ones.

Our lovely cabbie was called Bernard and he was a really lovely and jolly chap, he offered to take us to a secluded beach with a beach bar shack on it. He wouldn’t take payment until he had picked us up from the beach and returned us to the port again later in the day so this solved the problem of getting a return taxi – Make sure you factor that in if you’re planning on going somewhere secluded. He even stopped at various view points on the island and took pictures for us.

The beach was lovely and quiet and the beach bar was reasonably priced with great staff and it seems a similar situation on most beaches on that eastern side of the island. The actual seas was rocky underfoot so you might want to consider swim sandals but the whole day was understated and enjoyable.

Tips:

  • shop around for taxi prices, don’t just take the the first one and don’t just assume the tourist recommended one is the cheapest – use your initiative and common sense.
  • get chatting to taxi drives/locals/shop owners and find out what they recommend, again it may be vastly different and more enjoyable than what the tourist guides tell you to do.
  • Swim shoes for rocky beaches.
  • suncream and water as always.
  • If you do plan to go off the beaten track, make sure you arrange your taxi ride back to your accommodation/port. Going somewhere secluded is great but you’ll never hail a cab from there!