Wow. I hardly even know where to begin talking about The Bone Clocks. I'm a huge David Mitchell fan; he's on the very short list of "authors whose book I'll buy on the day it comes out, no questions asked." I suppose it had to happen that at some point I'd be disappointed.
The first half--maybe even the first two-thirds--of The Bone Clocks was hugely enjoyable. Mitchell is a master of creating characters and placing them in very specific points of time (and yes, this book does travel through time past and future, although with nowhere near the scope of Cloud Atlas). We're introduced to several characters who overlap with each other at different stages, but most circle around Holly Sykes. Holly is a teenager when we first meet her, with a hot temper and a boyfriend who's cheated on her, and she runs away. It's a decision that will affect her--and her family--for the rest of their lives, but for reasons they don't know or understand.
Along the way we meet the psychopathic Hugo Lamb, who is charming and smart and chillingly amoral; Ed Brubeck, a journalist reporting in Iraq who has become somewhat addicted to the danger of that life; and--possibly my favorite--Crispin Hershey, an egotistical author who's on the downslide, but doesn't let that stop him from speaking his vicious mind any time he likes.
So yes, these are all interesting characters, and Mitchell draws them vividly. Throughout the first two-thirds there are hints and glimpses of some otherworldly happenings, and it appears something is happening behind the scenes that affects the characters. It's not until the last third that we find out what it is, and that's where the book falls apart.
No spoilers, but by delaying giving the reader the information about these otherworldly events, Mitchell puts himself in the position of having to do a lot of explaining really fast. Clearly he's created quite a world in his head, but the story bogs down when he has to explain it to us. Frankly, a lot of it feels like jarring mumbo-jumbo, and the belabored action scenes feel like Harry Potter outtakes. Yes, Mitchell is a far better writer than JK Rowling, but Rowling understands pacing better--she knows when to withhold information and when to let it loose.
Perhaps the bigger problem is that by the time we're told what's really going on, it doesn't seem relevant. These characters are all so interesting without the supernatural backstory that it becomes annoying to move away from them and into this weird world.
To make matters worse, the book ends a few decades in the future, in a dystopic Ireland (yay, more dystopia, said I, never), and it's preachy and heavy-handed in its message. On top of that, one character says ominously to another, "Winter's coming." Maybe I'm too engrossed with Game of Thrones, but that seemed like a bit of an in-joke.
So. First two-thirds, great fun. Last third? Oof.
Still, he's got another book coming out this fall, and I will once again acquire it on publication day. One not-so-good book doesn't deter me from being optimistic. But after that...