The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks

by David Mitchell


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The New York Times bestseller by the author of Cloud Atlas | Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize | Named One of the Top Ten Fiction Books of the Year by Time, Entertainment Weekly, and O: The Oprah Magazine | A New York Times Notable Book | An American Library Association Notable Book | Winner of the World Fantasy Award
Named to more than 20 year-end best of lists, including
NPR | San Francisco Chronicle | The Atlantic | The Guardian | Slate | BuzzFeed

“With The Bone Clocks, [David] Mitchell rises to meet and match the legacy of Cloud Atlas.”—Los Angeles Times

Following a terrible fight with her mother over her boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her family and her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.
For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.
A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting on the war in Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.
Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together by a writer The Washington Post calls “the novelist who’s been showing us the future of fiction.”
An elegant conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist, David Mitchell has become one of the leading literary voices of his generation. His hypnotic new novel, The Bone Clocks, crackles with invention and wit and sheer storytelling pleasure—it is fiction at its most spellbinding.

Praise for The Bone Clocks
“One of the most entertaining and thrilling novels I’ve read in a long time.”—Meg Wolitzer, NPR

“[Mitchell] writes with a furious intensity and slapped-awake vitality, with a delight in language and all the rabbit holes of experience.”The New York Times Book Review
“Intensely compelling . . . fantastically witty . . . offers up a rich selection of domestic realism, gothic fantasy and apocalyptic speculation.”The Washington Post
“[A] time-traveling, culture-crossing, genre-bending marvel of a novel.”O: The Oprah Magazine
“Great fun . . . a tour de force . . . [Mitchell] channels his narrators with vivid expertise.”San Francisco Chronicle
“Mitchell is one of the most electric writers alive.”The Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400065677
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 1,199,025
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.

Read an Excerpt

June 30

I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh, and by now my heart’s going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom. Last night, the words just said themselves, “Christ, I really love you, Vin,” and Vinny puffed out a cloud of smoke and did this Prince Charles voice, “One must say, one’s frightfully partial to spending time with you too, Holly Sykes,” and I nearly weed myself laughing, though I was a bit narked he didn’t say “I love you too” back. If I’m honest. Still, boyfriends act goofy to hide stuff, any magazine’ll tell you. Wish I could phone him right now. Wish they’d invent phones you can speak to anyone anywhere anytime on. He’ll be riding his Norton to work in Rochester right now, in his leather jacket with led zep spelled out in silver studs. Come September, when I turn sixteen, he’ll take me out on his Norton.

Someone slams a cupboard door, below.

Mam. No one else’d dare slam a door like that.

Suppose she’s found out? says a twisted voice.

No. We’ve been too careful, me and Vinny.

She’s menopausal, is Mam. That’ll be it.

Talking Heads’ Fear of Music is on my record player, so I lower the stylus. Vinny bought me this LP, the second Saturday we met at Magic Bus Records. It’s an amazing record. I like “Heaven” and “Memories Can’t Wait” but there’s not a weak track on it. Vinny’s been to New York and actually saw Talking Heads, live. His mate Dan was on security and got Vinny backstage after the gig, and he hung out with David Byrne and the band. If he goes back next year, he’s taking me. I get dressed, finding each love bite and wishing I could go to Vinny’s tonight, but he’s meeting a bunch of mates in Dover. Men hate it when women act jealous, so I pretend not to be. My best friend Stella’s gone to London to hunt for secondhand clothes at Camden Market. Mam says I’m still too young to go to London without an adult so Stella took Ali Jessop instead. My biggest thrill today’ll be hoovering the bar to earn my three ­pounds’ pocket money. Whoopy-­doo. Then I’ve got next week’s exams to revise for. But for two pins I’d hand in blank papers and tell school where to shove Pythagoras triangles and Lord of the Flies and their life cycles of worms. I might, too.

Yeah. I might just do that.

Down in the kitchen, the atmosphere’s like Antarctica. “Morning,” I say, but only Jacko looks up from the window-­seat where he’s drawing. Sharon’s through in the lounge part, watching a cartoon. Dad’s downstairs in the hallway, talking with the delivery guy—­the truck from the brewery’s grumbling away in front of the pub. Mam’s chopping cooking apples into cubes, giving me the silent treatment. I’m supposed to say, “What’s wrong, Mam, what have I done?” but sod that for a game of soldiers. Obviously she noticed I was back late last night, but I’ll let her raise the topic. I pour some milk over my Weetabix and take it to the table. Mam clangs the lid onto the pan and comes over. “Right. What have you got to say for yourself?”

“Good morning to you too, Mam. Another hot day.”

“What have you got to say for yourself, young lady?”

If in doubt, act innocent. “ ’Bout what exactly?”

Her eyes go all snaky. “What time did you get home?”

“Okay, okay, so I was a bit late, sorry.”

“Two hours isn’t ‘a bit late.’ Where were you?”

I munch my Weetabix. “Stella’s. Lost track of time.”

“Well, that’s peculiar, now, it really is. At ten o’clock I phoned Stella’s mam to find out where the hell you were, and guess what? You’d left before eight. So who’s the liar here, Holly? You or her?”

Shit. “After leaving Stella’s, I went for a walk.”

“And where did your walk take you to?”

I sharpen each word. “Along the river, all right?”

“Upstream or downstream, was it, this little walk?”

I let a silence go by. “What diff’rence does it make?”

There’re some cartoon explosions on the telly. Mam tells my sister, “Turn that thing off and shut the door behind you, Sharon.”

“That’s not fair! Holly’s the one getting told off.”

“Now, Sharon. And you too, Jacko, I want—” But Jacko’s already vanished. When Sharon’s left, Mam takes up the attack again: “All alone, were you, on your ‘walk’?”

Why this nasty feeling she’s setting me up? “Yeah.”

“How far d’you get on your ‘walk,’ then, all alone?”

“What—­you want miles or kilometers?”

“Well, perhaps your little walk took you up Peacock Street, to a certain someone called Vincent Costello?” The kitchen sort of swirls, and through the window, on the Essex shore of the river, a tiny stick-­man’s lifting his bike off the ferry. “Lost for words all of a sudden? Let me jog your memory: ten o’clock last night, closing the blinds, front window, wearing a T-shirt and not a lot else.”

Yes, I did go downstairs to get Vinny a lager. Yes, I did lower the blind in the front room. Yes, someone did walk by. Relax, I’d told myself. What’s the chances of one stranger recognizing me? Mam’s expecting me to crumple, but I don’t. “You’re wasted as a barmaid, Mam. You ought to be handling supergrasses for MI5.”

Mam gives me the Kath Sykes Filthy Glare. “How old is he?”

Now I fold my arms. “None of your business.”

Mam’s eyes go slitty. “Twenty-­four, apparently.”

“If you already know, why’re you asking?”

“Because a twenty-­four-­year-­old man interfering with a fifteen-­year-­old schoolgirl is illegal. He could go to prison.”

“I’ll be sixteen in September, and I reckon the Kent police have bigger fish to fry. I’m old enough to make up my own mind about my relationships.”

Mam lights one of her Marlboro Reds. I’d kill for one. “When I tell your father, he’ll flay this Costello fella alive.”

Sure, Dad has to persuade piss-­artists off the premises from time to time, all landlords do, but he’s not the flaying-­anyone-­alive type. “Brendan was fifteen when he was going out with Mandy Fry, and if you think they were just holding hands on the swings, they weren’t. Don’t recall him getting the ‘You could go to prison’ treatment.”

She spells it out like I’m a moron: “It’s—­different—­for—­boys.”

I do an I-do-­not-­believe-­what-­I’m-hearing snort.

“I’m telling you now, Holly, you’ll be seeing this . . . car salesman again over my dead body.”

“Actually, Mam, I’ll bloody see who I bloody well want!”

“New rules.” Mam stubs out her fag. “I’m taking you to school and fetching you back in the van. You don’t set foot outside unless it’s with me, your father, Brendan, or Ruth. If I glimpse this cradle snatcher anywhere near here, I’ll be on the blower to the police to press charges—­yes, I will, so help me God. And—­and—­I’ll call his employer and let them know that he’s seducing underage schoolgirls.”

Big fat seconds ooze by while all of this sinks in.

My tear ducts start twitching but there’s no way I’m giving Mrs. Hitler the pleasure. “This isn’t Saudi Arabia! You can’t lock me up!”

“Live under our roof, you obey our rules. When I was your age—”

“Yeah yeah yeah, you had twenty brothers and thirty sisters and forty grandparents and fifty acres of spuds to dig ’cause that was how life was in Auld feckin’ Oireland but this is England, Mam, England! And it’s the 1980s and if life was so feckin’ glorious in that West Cork bog why did you feckin’ bother even coming to—”

Whack! Smack over the left side of my face.

We look at each other: me trembling with shock and Mam angrier than I’ve ever seen her, and—­I reckon—­knowing she’s just broken something that’ll never be mended. I leave the room without a word, as if I’ve just won an argument.

I only cry a bit, and it’s shocked crying, not boo-­hoo crying, and when I’m done I go to the mirror. My eyes’re a bit puffy, but a bit of eyeliner soon sorts that out . . . Dab of lippy, bit of blusher . . . Sorted. The girl in the mirror’s a woman, with her cropped black hair, her Quadrophenia T-shirt, her black jeans. “I’ve got news for you,” she says. “You’re moving in with Vinny today.” I start listing the reasons why I can’t, and stop. “Yes,” I agree, giddy and calm at once. I’m leaving school, as well. As from now. The summer holidays’ll be here before the truancy officer can fart, and I’m sixteen in September, and then it’s stuff you, Windmill Hill Comprehensive. Do I dare?

I dare. Pack, then. Pack what? Whatever’ll fit into my big duffel bag. Underwear, bras, T-shirts, my bomber jacket; makeup case and the Oxo tin with my bracelets and necklaces in. Toothbrush and a handful of tampons—­my period’s a bit late so it should start, like, any hour now. Money. I count up £13.85 saved in notes and coins. I’ve £80 more in my TSB bankbook. It’s not like Vinny’ll charge me rent, and I’ll look for a job next week. Babysitting, working in the market, waitressing: There’s loads of ways to earn a few quid. What about my LPs? I can’t lug the whole collection over to Peacock Street now, and Mam’s quite capable of dumping them at the Oxfam shop out of spite, so I just take Fear of Music, wrapping it carefully in my bomber jacket and putting it into my bag so it won’t get bent. I hide the others under the loose floorboard, just for now, but as I’m putting the carpet back, I get the fright of my life: Jacko’s watching me from the doorway. He’s still in his Thunderbirds pajamas and slippers.

I tell him, “Mister, you just gave me a heart attack.”

“You’re going.” Jacko’s got this not-­quite-­here voice.

“Just between us, yes, I am. But not far, don’t worry.”

“I’ve made you a souvenir, to remember me by.” Jacko hands me a circle of cardboard—­a flattened Dairylea cheese box with a maze drawn on. He’s mad about mazes, is Jacko; it’s all these Dungeons & Dragonsy books him and Sharon read. The one Jacko’s drawn’s actually dead simple by his standards, made of eight or nine circles inside each other. “Take it,” he tells me. “It’s diabolical.”

“It doesn’t look all that bad to me.”

“ ‘Diabolical’ means ‘satanic,’ sis.”

“Why’s your maze so satanic, then?”

“The Dusk follows you as you go through it. If it touches you, you cease to exist, so one wrong turn down a dead end, that’s the end of you. That’s why you have to learn the labyrinth by heart.”

Christ, I don’t half have a freaky little brother. “Right. Well, thanks, Jacko. Look, I’ve got a few things to—”

Jacko holds my wrist. “Learn this labyrinth, Holly. Indulge your freaky little brother. Please.”

That jolts me a bit. “Mister, you’re acting all weird.”

“Promise me you’ll memorize the path through it, so if you ever needed to, you could navigate it in the darkness. Please.”

My friends’ little brothers are all into Scalextric or BMX or Top Trumps—­why do I get one who does this and says words like “navigate” and “diabolical”? Christ only knows how he’ll survive in Gravesend if he’s gay. I muss his hair. “Okay, I promise to learn your maze off by heart.” Then Jacko hugs me, which is weird ’cause Jacko’s not a huggy kid. “Hey, I’m not going far . . . You’ll understand when you’re older, and—”

“You’re moving in with your boyfriend.”

By now I shouldn’t be surprised. “Yeah.”

“Take care of yourself, Holly.”

“Vinny’s nice. Once Mam’s got used to the idea, we’ll see each other—­I mean, we still saw Brendan after he married Ruth, yeah?”

But Jacko just puts the cardboard lid with his maze on deep into my duffel bag, gives me one last look, and disappears.


Mam appears with a basket of bar rugs on the first-­floor landing, as if she wasn’t lying in wait. “I’m not bluffing. You’re grounded. Back upstairs. You’ve got exams next week. Time you knuckled down and got some proper revision done.”

I grip the banister. “ ‘Our roof, our rules,’ you said. Fine. I don’t want your rules, or your roof, or you hitting me whenever you lose your rag. You’d not put up with that. Would you?”

Mam’s face sort of twitches, and if she says the right thing now, we’ll negotiate. But no, she just takes in my duffel bag and sneers like she can’t believe how stupid I am. “You had a brain, once.”

So I carry on down the stairs to the ground floor.

Above me, her voice tightens. “What about school?”

“You go, then, if school’s so important!”

“I never had the bloody chance, Holly! I’ve always had the pub to run, and you and Brendan and Sharon and Jacko to feed, clothe, and send to school so you won’t have to spend your life mopping out toilets and emptying ashtrays and knackering your back and never having an early night.”

Water off a duck’s back. I carry on downstairs.

“But go on, then. Go. Learn the hard way. I’ll give you three days before Romeo turfs you out. It’s not a girl’s glittering personality that men’re interested in, Holly. It never bloody is.”

I ignore her. From the hallway I see Sharon behind the bar by the fruit juice shelves. She’s helping Dad do the restocking, but I can see she heard. I give her a little wave and she gives me one back, nervous. Echoing up from the cellar trapdoor is Dad’s voice, crooning “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey.” Better leave him out of it. In front of Mam, he’ll side with her. In front of the regulars, it’ll be “It takes a bigger idiot than me to step between the pecking hens” and they’ll all nod and mumble, “Right enough there, Dave.” Plus I’d rather not be in the room when he finds out ’bout Vinny. Not that I’m ashamed, I’d just rather not be there. Newky’s snoozing in his basket. “You’re the smelliest dog in Kent,” I tell him to stop myself crying, “you old fleabag.” I pat his neck, unbolt the side door, and step into Marlow Alley. Behind me, the door goes clunk.

West Street’s too bright and too dark, like a TV with the contrast on the blink, so I put on my sunglasses and they turn the world all dreamish and vivider and more real. My throat aches and I’m shaking a bit. Nobody’s running after me from the pub. Good. A cement truck trundles by and its fumy gust makes the conker tree sway a bit and rustle. Breathe in warm tarmac, fried spuds, and week-­old rubbish spilling out of the bins—­the dustmen are on strike again.

Lots of little darting birds’re twirly-­whirlying like the tin-­whistlers on strings kids get at birthdays, or used to, and a gang of boys’re playing Kick the Can in the park round the church at Crooked Lane. Get him! Behind the tree! Set me free! Kids. Stella says older men make better lovers; with boys our age, she says, the ice cream melts once the cone’s in your hand. Only Stella knows ’bout Vinny—­she was there that first Saturday in the Magic Bus—­but she can keep a secret. When she was teaching me to smoke and I kept puking, she didn’t laugh or tell anyone, and she’s told me everything I need to know ’bout boys. Stella’s the coolest girl in our year at school, easy.

Crooked Lane veers up from the river, and from there I turn up Queen Street, where I’m nearly mown down by Julie Walcott pushing her pram. Her baby’s bawling its head off and she looks knackered. She left school when she got pregnant. Me and Vinny are dead careful, and we only had sex once without a condom, our first time, and it’s a scientific fact that virgins can’t get pregnant. Stella told me.


Barnes & Noble Review Interview with David Mitchell

David Mitchell has reason to be preoccupied. It's not just the fluorescent-lit din reverberating through Manhattan's Javits Center. Which would surely be enough to distract anyone trying to have a conversation about the architecture of a novel, the endgame of an oil-addicted society, or the peak years of the band Talking Heads — all of which are subjects Mitchell engages with brio. But then there's the matter of the poster hanging grandly over the entrance to Book Expo America, a political- rally-worthy banner that heralds his novel The Bone Clocks Mitchell's own face beams down from its center, and the writer finds in it an example of what he calls a persistent "what am I doing here?" feeling. "It's spooky!" he says in cheerful amazement. "Like Ozymandias."

The Egyptian ruler of Shelley's sonnet, whose statuary head is all that is left to testify to a once-godlike reign, is a character one can imagine the author of Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet taking on eagerly — in part because the novelist has made a habit out of shuttling between past, present, and future with apparently effortless fluency. But also because Mitchell's fiction frequently deals with the hubris of the powerful, the humbling contingencies of fate, and how one era's illusions seem to dissolve when viewed backwards from tomorrow.

With The Bone Clocks the novelist shuffles time, place and point of view much as he did in his internationally bestselling Cloud Atlas, but in this book the individual stories — the adolescent travails of teenage runaway in 1980s England, the coming-of-age of a sociopathic charmer, a journalist's Iraq war nightmare, the late-career crisis of a "bad boy" novelist, and a vision of near-future Ireland after a global catastrophe — are connected not only by character-crossings but by a supernatural super-narrative. Telepathic parasites and reincarnated heroes wage a secret war down the centuries, defined by a mystical "Script," sometimes secreting themselves within the memories of ordinary humans, their conflict eventually erupting in a climactic psychic brawl in the Chapel of the Dusk.

Meanwhile, Mitchell's practice of letting his actors slip from one novel into another is even more than usually on view: Figures from Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet appear, some to play major roles in the action, others making quick appearances that seem largely there for the mutual amusement of author and reader. Readers interested in cameo spotting can make a quite game of it (hint: not all of the recurring players are human).

Marshaling this staggering array of instruments and performers, and an intricate score to work from, Mitchell conducts a symphony on themes that are familiar to readers of his work: the fear of death, the ease with which we justify selfishness and cruelty, and the corresponding beauty of human solidarity in the face of those antagonists.

Despite the distractions of the cacophonous hall and the demands of a crowded interview schedule, the novelist brought passionate animation to our dialogue about his initial plans for The Bone Clocks, the ideas that animate its flights of fancy and dead-serious visions, and the writers who have influenced his unclassifiable work. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. - - Bill Tipper

The Barnes & Noble Review: Can you talk first about the conception and genesis of The Bone Clocks? What aspect of this book was the first part for you, that you can recall?

David Mitchell: A desire to trace the parameter of life from teenage years to old age, to invent sort of the Mike Leigh aspects, you might call them, as opposed to the David Lynch aspects. Sometimes covert, and, in a latter section, making that as overt as it could possibly be.

BNR: Did you begin thinking there will be would be supernatural phenomena as an important part of the book? Were telepathy and reincarnation initially elements of that story? Or did that come in later, as it were?

DM: It's the first time I'm really thinking back: My original aspiration was to capture something massive, to go for broke and call up, or haul in, as many elements of existence as I possibly could. If I'm honest, I think at that point I wasn't even thinking about how this could possibly be any kind of coherent novel. My only plan was sixty stories over sixty years, from age ten through to age seventy. Not all about Holly Sykes.

BNR: So the teenage Holly Sykes, who The Bone Clocks follows from a 1980s teenage crisis through to her old age in the 2040s — later became the keystone in that conception?

DM: Yes. The thread maybe running through all of them. To do a fictional documentary of a life: that's how I started, and it got to about ten or fifteen different stories. Then I found the fatal flaw, which was that a short story is not actually a chapter. I could kind of get away with this in Black Swan Green, because there's only thirteen, and each of those chapters — apart from the last one or two — I wrote as a sort of theoretically abstracted and self-contained short story.

However, when you get past a certain point — when you get into double digits — the reader never knows when to sit up and pay attention and mark down the characters who are going to be coming back, or things that are coming back, or not. So you're constantly not-knowing what's important or not. In a novel, this is sort of sorted for you. But in short stories, everything is important. So fairly early on, I hit this wall or this chasm that I couldn't cross and when you do that — it's always the same, and I've been here before. It means you have to restructure.

So instead of doing sixty stories, I'm doing six novellas, one per decade. That's handle-able. I could get my aspiration to do the parabola of a life, but I'm only making six worlds per novel, and I know where everything is.

That's the super-structure: the portrait of a life. Not a person at a moment in life, but of a life. That's why we get Holly as a teenager, as a young lover, as a mother and a partner, as a widow and a sort of an accidental appear-to-be-a-writer. That's sometimes a feeling that I have, too: What am I doing here again?

BNR: Since you raise that — can we talk about the roman à clef side to The Bone Clocks. You dig rather heavily into the less-than-attractive aspects of a successful novelist's life in the portrait of Crispin Hershey. He works partly, it seems, as a balancing point between Hugo Lamb's sociopathy and the "Good Guys," Ed, Marinus, and Holly — but it's also true that one can't help but see him as a representative of the novelist in the text.

DM: Crispin Hershey is all the worst parts of me, amplified and smooshed together. We occupy the same profession and visit the same book festivals and trade fairs. He has a big mouth, relishes confrontation (unlike me) and says things that I either wouldn't dare, or lack the willingness to handle the fall-out from saying them. He doesn't seem to notice the connection between his rudeness and his unhappiness, or the link between his reluctance to work at his marriage and its slow-motion disintegration. He's a perceptive writer but not a perceptive self- examiner. I've met many novelists who are much more enlightened human beings than Crispin, and a few who make Crispin look sorted.

Holly notices a better man within, eventually, and this perhaps brings the better Hershey closer to the surface. But I wanted Holly to not just be there or to respond to other characters, but also to be seen. That's why she's only a point-of-view character in the first and the final sections. She's seen, by others, as a lover. She's seen as a partner. She's seen as a colleague and a friend by Crispin. She's seen as a fellow fighter in this weird, murderous feud. She's eventually seen as a grandmother figure, this time from her own point of view — but I think she's earned the right.

BNR: Let's talk about that weird, murderous feud. That portrait of Holly's life turns on a fantastic narrative in which you have long-lived groups of people who sort of transcend ordinary lives, the Horologists and the Anchorites. Can you quickly characterize these two sides?

DM: Sure — they are both pseudo-immortals. I call them "pseudo- immortals" because they are not immortal like the Wandering Jew, and they aren't indestructible. They occupy two circles, and the rules for each are somewhat different. The first group, the Horologists, are either involuntarily reincarnated after they die, or are souls who can literally jump from body to body to body, more or less at will, like Esther Little.

They don't know their own creation story. They don't know how they came to be this way. They just were born like Marinus in the sixth century in San Marino, who dies like everyone else, but forty-nine days later is back in a body of the opposite gender to the previous life. No idea why. He has gone through the various possibilities, but has come to accept now that he does not know and cannot know. Maybe he will know one day — or she will know one day — but for now, she doesn't, and that's the way it's got to be.

BNR: Under the leadership of one or two, the Horologists have begun to find each other, and now, once you have enough of them they have figured out "there are multiples of us in the world, and we should band together."

DM: Yes. And one thing that gives them a raison d' être is the other type of immortal, the Anchorites. These are much more predatory. They have entered or discovered a band of occultism called The Shaded Way, and this teaches not only some you might call rudimentary psychic abilities, but also a big one, which is how to treat death. Shaded Way immortality — pseudo-immortality — involves the conversion of psycho-voltaic charge (in other words, other people's souls) into a substance the Anchorites imbibe, which in this case is called Black Wine. In Jacob de Zoet it was called Oil of Souls, I think.

BNR: For those who haven't read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, there is a part of that story which kind of hints or touches on this practice in one evil character, Enomoto, the powerful abbot of a Japanese monastery. It's clear in The Bone Clocks that he is part of this tradition of the Shaded Way.

DM: Yes. In The Bone Clocks, the Horologists categorize the Anchorites as "carnivores" because they consume innocent individuals with some latent psychic ability, like Holly — they take a few a year.

BNR: So they harvest, as it were, some number of souls, usually children — without the rest of the mythology, they're vampires in the tradition of Bram Stoker's Dracula. An innocent person has to be sacrificed; their soul has to be decanted and consumed.

DM: From our point of view, it's evil. From their point of view, it's not significantly different to the way that we farm animals on a huge scale and eat their body parts for our own pleasure, when we don't even need to, to keep us alive. I want their evil to be rational from their standpoint. Otherwise it's merely evil, and that's rather boring.

BNR: They are taking a small number of lives. When they have little verbal encounters with the Horologists, they bring this up. "Listen, be reasonable . . . "

DM: "There's 8 billion people on the planet."

BNR: People die from all kinds of causes every day, many of them human-driven causes. "We're just taking a few," and . . .

DM: And "Join us!"

BNR: That question of dangerously slippery moral questions about individual survival and collective good come back to your vision of the 2040s. I don't want to give too much away, but as we move through time with Holly's life and the lives of others that kind of cluster around her, we follow move from the 1980s into the new century, dive into the horror of the Iraq war, and eventually wind up with Holly as an older woman, living in Ireland in the 2040s, when a global climate crisis has really, really devastated civilization's infrastructure. It's a fairly bleak and fragmented kind of world that she and those people around her are seen facing.

DM: It's looking very sixteenth-century, isn't it?

BNR: Very Hobbesian. The Bone Clocks' coda offers a vision of the networked order having broken down, and a return to a world of pretty unvarnished all-against-all.

DM: Might is right. Unfortunately, I'm not making the 2040s up. That doesn't feel unrealistic to me. It looks like horribly probable. But consider that all of this is only possible because of oil, and we are sleepwalking into catastrophe. Our civilization runs on oil. All of it. And we're not voting for politicians who would do something about it. We're not mobilizing. They're allocating our resources. It's not being worried about it, instead of action.

That's a bit dark — but that was always going to be in the 60 stories, and it made it into the larger six as well.

BNR: That vision of terrifying violence — and the way that these collective global decisions play out with decidedly personal, tragic consequences for individuals — is foreshadowed in the section of the novel that follows Ed, Holly's boyfriend and the father of her daughter. He becomes a war correspondent, traumatized by the loss of his colleagues in Iraq but continually drawn to return to the war zone. When did you decide to make Ed's story — and therefore the Iraq war - - part of The Bone Clocks?

DM: Early on. The Iraq war was the foreign-policy event — many would say debacle — of the decade in both British and American (not to mention Middle Eastern) political history, and has deadened the appetites of our electorates for any kind of military invention, anywhere, however needed or justified. One o The Bone Clocks' objects is to try to bottle the zeitgeist of each decade in the novella set in that decade, so for the 2000s novella, a connection with Iraq was the pre-eminent contender.

BNR: To move from character to the style of your writing, your books always deliver a resolute crackle at the sentence level. At one point I thought of Roald Dahl's fictional drink frobscottle, from The BFG, and the extent to which there's an intensely carbonated fizz and pop to your scenes. Even while you're constructing this grand arc it seems you have to get in there and see if you can squeeze another metaphor out of a character's narration of a moment. So we get a couple of characters in particular who seem born to do that. Obviously, Crispin Hershey, who is a novelist and whose stock in trade is doing that himself.

DM: He can't stop doing it! He'd be a happier man if he saw the world less in metaphor.

BNR: But there's also Hugo Lamb, whom readers originally met as a cruel young man in the pages of Black Swan Green — he's a villain, but he is one of the most charming and ingratiating of your characters. One wants to keep listening to him talk.

DM: Thank you very much. It was sort of decided for me by Jason in Black Swan Green, who notes how Hugo wields power. Jason, of course, who stammers, can't speak very well and is shy, and has sort of a middle-class hang-up in a lower-middle-class school, where speaking in too high a register will get your head kicked in. Jason observes how Hugo can just create reality with his voice. It's like an act of suasion. Just through the power of his voice, he can make people do things that they wouldn't otherwise do, just by speaking. Like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. It's more powerful than magic, actually. Magic needs to be constantly touched up. But Hugo will just reverse a situation entirely to his advantage. Not unlike Patricia Highsmith's Ripley — but Ripley has got a class chip on his shoulder which Hugo actually hasn't.

BNR: Hugo has a mortality chip on his shoulder.

DM: I'll use that, if I may! Yeah — he has a big mortality chip. It keeps him interested in life. He's sort of an after-Ripley. You can see his future. He can get as much power and money as he wants. He's had any woman he wants. But then what? BNR: For a young man, he's very aware of the limitations of what you can get in a mortal life, something that seems to make him ripe for recruitment by a society of immortals.

DM: Exactly. What's Anchorites' criteria for choosing their recruits? It fits people who can already see beyond the relativity meager rewards of the world of success, and cannot stand the fact that whatever you do, however much you get, you're still going to end up a stinking corpse, like all these stinking plebs. You're no better than them after death.

Now, that's the one to beat. That's the battle to take on and work out. That's interesting. That's what floats Hugo's boat. How can you cheat decrepitude and death? That's what makes him the perfect recruit. Because the price is that you have to be willing to have your conscience amputated and you have to want it that badly, and they can see that Hugo does, or would do, if he hadn't spent that one night with Holly Sykes . . . And he still does want it, but when the chance is . . . There's just a speck of her still in him.

BNR: If the supernatural element of The Bone Clocks was actually foreshadowed in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, were you aware as you wrote that novel that your next would take on a more overtly mystical conception — dueling psychic societies, mind control and immortal intelligences?

DM: An easy question: yes. Doctor Lucas Marinus' atemporality is why, in The Thousand Autumns, he is so unfazed by death (he's on his twenty-eighth lifetime) and so sympathetic to women and slaves (he has been them, many times.) But I wanted to keep the supernatural elements in the background, because it was important to me that the book came over primarily as a historical novel.

BNR: Did you experience any tension between your desire to create that six-novella "documentary arc" of a life and the choice to explore the numinous or supernatural realm?

DM: Often. But this kind of tension or ambiguity within a novel's identity ? not just the plot, but in the genre and structure of the book itself ? can be a strong propulsive force, and a cliché-repellent.

BNR: Were there writers that you were informed by in telling this story which kind of goes in some directions you haven't gone before?

DM: Oh, there must have been. In a way, everyone I like, I am somewhat envious of, and when I feel that envy, I wish to emulate it. Friends as well. Give me some names.

BNR: Ursula Le Guin?

DM: Oh, yes! Oh, she's amazing. I met her. It was one of the best encounters of my life. I was asked yesterday what books I re-read, and very, very few, but The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness about every ten years — and they are better each time. Why? I still don't know. I'm getting on a gender soapbox there. I think if she were male, she'd be published by American Classics, and she'd have sober, hardback . . . Those two books are canonical, I think. They are astonishing novels. But they still put them in with the kind of books that have lizard women on the covers.

BNR: Have you read the Earthsea books?

DM: I've read all of them.

BNR: There was a way in which Holly at the end seemed like some of LeGuin's older female heroines who have quietly resisted the forces around them.

DM: I can name some: Tehanu. What's the name of the character who is a girl in The Tombs of Atuan, that gets out?

BNR: Tenar.

DM: Yes. Love them.

BNR: Whom are you reading now?

DM: I go back to Chekhov every year, probably.

BNR: Which Chekhov in particular?

DM: Just short stories. Also his novella The Duel. Recently, The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber.

BNR: Under the Skin is an amazing book. I have not yet read The Book of Strange New Things.

DM: You've got a huge, delicious treat. It's really good. Like Under the Skin.

BNR: Hugo, Holly, and Marinus all respond deeply to music, pop and classical, throughout, and going back to Number9Dream or Cloud Atlas, which count musicians and composers among their characters, music runs as a strong thread through your work.

DM: It does — it matters to me, and I think it matters to most people. It's just we don't always agree on what music should be the one that matters. But can you imagine a life without music? I'd rather not.

BNR: Do you listen while you write?

DM: There is a stream of writing music that works. Instrumental, small ensemble — Bach is pretty good writing music. Brian Eno is good writing music, actually.

BNR: Chamber rather than symphonic?

DM: Yeah, that can probably get too tempestuous, and it can't be sung in any language I have any knowledge of whatsoever. Fortunately, that's only really English, Italian and Japanese. Or koto or harp music. I don't mean it disparagingly, but music you can call somewhat noodling music, that isn't too insistent about melody.

BNR: One prominent source of musical inspiration stands out in the novel, particularly for Holly: the band Talking Heads. When teenage Holly imagines herself in a rock band, it's as bassist Tina Weymouth. One of her companions in the final chapter is a dog named Zimbra. If there's a Talking Heads song that The Bone Clocks could be associated with, what would it be?

DM: At the request of my UK publisher I spent the morning putting together a Spotify playlist for The Bone Clocks. Its second track is "Heaven," and its penultimate track is "Memories Can't Wait", both from the Talking Heads' Fear of Music album. The sense of pointless stasis conjured by "Heaven" is for the Anchorites in The Bone Clocks, and "Memories Can't Wait" is for the role that Holly's memory plays in the book as an asylum for Esther Little.

BNR: Coming back to Holly's story, or the story of the world as she experiences that going to carry on in any future volumes? Or do you know?

DM: Yes. Three books from now, I will do the third book in what I am very, very loosely calling The Marinus Trilogy, and we'll find out . . .

BNR: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet being the first and The Bone Clocks being in the second.

DM: So there's two and a half more books. There's a novella next in line, then a medium-sized novel, and then a big thumper, and then we'll find out about the Prescients in Iceland — and the fusion-powered ship in Cloud Atlas . . . They are the Prescients . . . The people who are the Prescients, and the think tank that one of Marinus' surviving colleagues is called Prescience.

BNR: Is making some of your characters "atemporal" an author's way of never having to say goodbye?

DM: My hyperlinking of characters between books is more my way of never needing to decide if a goodbye is a goodbye or an au revoir. I can potentially bring any of them back, whether they're atemporal or not. As long as we're alive, The End is never The End.

September 2, 2014

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The Bone Clocks: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
Angie_Lisle More than 1 year ago
I love Mitchell's writing; the man certainly knows how to turn a pretty sentence. This book is formatted similarly to Cloud Atlas, with six nested parts that collaborate to move the plot forward, and what I stated in my review of Cloud Atlas holds true for this book as well: when you think of this book in outline form, mind-boggling. Then, that outline gets weighted down by words. And I felt the weight of this book even more so than I did with its predecessor. I started out high on Holly Sykes in 'A Hot Spell.' I fell absolutely head over heels into the first part of this book. Then, I hit the second part of the book, 'Myrrh is Mine, its Bitter Perfume,' and that crush ended fast. Juxtaposition is the only reason I can come up with to explain such a droll section. I read 'A Hot Spell' in one day but it took a week to get through 'Myrrh is Mine, its Bitter Perfume' because I despised the main character, the pretentious narcissist Hugo Lamb (after this section, I returned to the schedule of reading one section per day). I briefly wished that I could pop into the story just to slap Lamb around a couple times. And by slap, I mean palm strike to the forehead with enough shoulder-backing to throw the little d-bag back on his egotistical behind. I celebrated reaching the end of this section. Seriously, I sprung for expensive craft ale. The third and fourth parts, 'The Wedding Bash' and 'Crispin Hershey's Lonely Planet,' dragged with verbose meanderings that wander off-point and convey small amounts of information pertaining to Holly. The future that's coming later in the book is set up here, with Mitchell showing readers what parts of the real world shape his future world. But, half the fun of a fantasy is the escape from the mundane real-world and it's the lengthy delivery of these details that matters after finishing the next two sections, 'An Horologist's Labyrinth' and 'Sheep's Head.' Especially 'Sheep's Head,' set in the year 2043, which has a back-story chock full of all kinds of amazing events that we never read about because Mitchell chose a brief telling of events during conversation rather than showing us - which wouldn't bother me if the third and fourth parts had been delivered in the same manner. However, I loved the way Mitchell ended this book. I even like the way he wrapped up Hugo Lamb; it felt like an apology for making me want to hit Lamb so bad. I received a free advanced reader's copy of this book from First Reads in exchange for a review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good writer, but ill be hesitant to read another by him. Lots of seemingly pointless info; the plot i picked up the book to read could have been told in 40 pages. Another reviewer said it best "mostly empty calories". If he writes a book with full calories id read it for sure; but i didnt even read the end of this one, nor will i have the desire to. I do like his writing, just not in pointless bulk. I like how he portrays peoples thoughts, its very real. Maybe i missed the point, searching for the paranormal aspect.
Books4Tomorrow More than 1 year ago
Spanning a time period of about fifty-nine years, The Bone Clocks is a captivating and highly stimulating read. The story follows Holly Sykes from her teenage years, through numerous paranormal encounters, to her old age when she tries to make an existence in a disintegrating world. Although this lengthy novel provided me with five days of intense reading, I can truly say that it was worth every minute. Apart from the beautifully written prose, I loved the well chosen bits of well-known poetry and prose from popular works quoted at appropriate places in the story. The characters are masterfully crafted, fleshed out and absolutely lifelike. Holly Sykes, the main character, starts off as a rebellious teenager who runs away from home simply because her mother disapproves of her boyfriend. Throughout the book she shows growth until, at the end, she is a great-grandmother in charge of young children in a near-apocalyptic setting.  Other remarkable characters include the womanizing, thieving student, Hugo Lamb aka Marcus Anyder, a bestselling writer with a serious grudge, and Ed Brubeck, a father who tries to convince himself that he isn't a war-zone junkie. Then there are the mysterious body hopping Immaculée Constantin and the strangely reincarnating Marinus; both of whom are hugely paranormal. The question is: which of them is really the bad guy in this tale? The Bone Clocks presents the most believable end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario that I've ever encountered in a book. It is so logical and realistic that the Endarkenment, as it is called, turned out to be the scariest part of the book for me.  For an engaging read with tons of action, brilliant characters, and a completely captivating storyline, I recommend The Bone Clocks as an absolute must-read! (Ellen Fritz)
bmilano31 More than 1 year ago
I went into this with great promise having read reviews comparing Mitchell to Hurakami, one of my favorite authors.  Well,  Mr.  Hurakami has nothing to worry.  This book is as close to unreadable as any I've come across.   The first chapter is far and away the best in the book. After this, the author goes off on tangents using language, terms and words that were totally foreign to me. In chapter two alone, Mitchell writes paragrapgh after paragraph in French with no translation whatsoever, leaving the reader totally lost and confused. There were times when I actually thought Mitchell was toying with the reader, seeing how many times they would need to stop reading and consult a dictionary. Yes, it is THAT confounding.  The story is all over the place and in was completely lost regarding character progression, relationships and the overall storyline.The sections relating to the immortals was one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever experienced. I waded my way through 500 something pages and was still meandering about trying to connect the dots.  I was waiting for the story to be wrapped up so that the proceeding pages would somehow make sense. Alas, this was not the case. I was just as confused as before. After 600 plus pages in would expect and hope for something of closure or a direction. This was not the case.  Thankfully I borrowed this book from the library and didn't drop $30. But based upon Mitchell being compared to Hurakami, I did purchase Number9Dream. Hopefully, that book won't be as much of a mes as this one was.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not wait to read this book when it came out because Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite books. When I started the book, I was a little confused about where it was going. Then I read about 300 pages, of which I could have skipped. I lost what little plot I was following but I read on. From page 400 to the end, the book it fantastic and not to be missed. The book has 6 parts with six narrators. All the parts have the character Holly Sykes involved. You have to jump in and read the entire book to find out the plot of the book but I assure you, it is well worth your effort.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was not at all what I expected. For starters, it was much too long. Many parts dragged on laboriously, only to cede to another part that was just as bad. The storylines were often confusing, hard to follow, and outright irrelevant to the story as a whole (Crispin Hershey and Ed Brubeck, I'm looking at you). The most bizarre and most prominent storyline, about the Horologists, never progressed to any kind of real explanation or understanding, and I spent the entire book (literally up to the last 20 pages) wondering when things would start to make sense. Spoiler alert: they don't. The dialogue and writing style feel stiff and jilted, so they can't even lend themselves as a redemptive feature to the rest of the book. It was just a jumble of random stories with the main character randomly tied in for short periods of time, which never really amounts to a whole story. Most of the characters are outright unlikable, too, to the point where you're reading and wondering why you should care about any of them and why you should bother reading about them. Additionally, the final section of the book feels like a broken-off tree branch that's just barely hanging on to the rest of the tree. Had it not been for the main character's presence and a few details, this could have been a chapter from a different book, mistakenly placed in this one. It was so incredibly disjointed, and seemed to have NOTHING to do with the rest of the book. Seriously this book was so weird I can barely write a review that would adequately explain it. Please choose another book to read.
WriteReason More than 1 year ago
The introduction of Holly Sykes is a good start for this story, but what lies between this, and the last 250 pages is rather long winded, with divided thoughts on whether it is entirely related or needed.  The last 250 pages is where this story really takes off, but even it has its drawbacks.  The first 60 or more pages of these last pages, is devoted to explanation of what this tale is all about--the differences of the Anchorites and the Horologist; the passing of souls; the war. Some reviewers say this was good writing, for me, it was just a lot of words.  The last 250 pages are very interesting, but even these pages are rather wordy.  A lot of rhetoric that, at times, feels so redundant.  The author uses a lot of words to get simple things across, and it draws upon the reader.  Though the concepts of the afterlife he directs in this story are quite intriguing, I will not consider this book to be placed  among my favorites.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read on the average two books per week. I like Patterson, Bakducci, Clancy and several other authors. I heard about Mitchell's books, researched it, and decided to give him a try. For me it was way to much fantasy to keep interested, after the first 100 pages were a simple story about the adventure of a girl in England running away from home...and then it went to a totally different direction. I don't know Uf I will give Mitchell another shot. I out thr book down after the first day and donated it to my local library the next day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the concept was unique, the sheer amount of characters, changing time periods and crazy language made it very hard to get through the first half of the book. And the end! Just pick a theme lady WTH.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't believe it took me so long to find this. One of the best books I have ever read! The characters were incredible and the stories were intense and enthralling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you liked Cloud Atlas you will like this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book wasn't at all what I expected... For one thing, it was much too long. Parts of the book dragged on for far too long, and did nothing to contibute to the many rambling storylines
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read exactly 1/2 of this book and still have no idea who what when where. Sorry
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
When Mr. Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas, he created a universe made of different times; each generation was a shuffle of the lives found in the previous centuries. His ability to carry a story from the British Colonial era to life on another planet caused the reader to see life as more than breath, profession or location. Life became a gathering of maps, each gathered in a cluster for a time then the pages turned to reveal the next continent of Being. His mind blowing work deepens to explore how consciousness causes life to become Living in this book of relationship, love, honor and exploration of mental illness. “Bone Clocks,” the name given humans by the Anchorites, a cult of humans who have learned to delay death by stealing the bodies of unsuspecting people. A new body must be acquired every three years, so the “sacrifices” are nothing more than a way to measure time until they are discarded. Atemporals are a breed of humans whose souls are recycled after 49 days from the death of those they most recently inhabited. They do not pick their next body, nor do they aware of how their kind came to be or how the process of “rebirth” happens. They are the only enemies of the Anchorites and are the only ones capable of stopping their taking over the world. Both of these groups have traveled among us for thousands of years. Who each group is how, they travel and where humanity is headed is covered in the lengthy, absorbing collection of connected short stories. Each story, at first, seems disparate from the other. Each is engaging, after the shock of the abrupt end of the previous tale is eased, and will draw the reader into the world being created so easily that said reader will find themselves at home in a new “time” without being sure how they got there. By the final chapter, I was so used to the shift in time that I felt part Atemporal. The story begins in 1984 in a small English village. Fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes is leaving her home after a fight with her mother. As she headed to her boyfriend’s apartment, she had little idea how her world was about to change. As a child, the time she spent in hospital to get rid of The Voices helped her hold to a reality that was secure and logical could not prepare her for the world into which she now walked; the incidental meeting of an old lady fishing, seeing her brother where he could not be, learning to pick strawberries lead to an existence that is unbelievable until she is living it. Throughout the six stories, Holly is found to be present, sometimes centrally, sometimes as a person barely noticed but always heading toward events that shake the world. Mr. Mitchell has a gift for shifting time in such a way that brings about clarity for the present moment. Who has not felt that what they were seeing/feeling/thinking was but a shadow of reality? Who has felt they had knowledge of the life they were living that could only have been obtained only by having lived, in some form, previously? In some circles, such possibilities would be considered as symptoms of mental imbalance (as they should be in those circumstances); in the hands of this gifted author, such experiences are a glimpse into a place that could explain questions once too frightening to consider. This is a book for those mature enough to keep a
scottydback More than 1 year ago
I started this once and put it down. After I read Slade House, I returned to Bone Clocks, and this time couldn't put it down. Not sure if its a reading mood, or finally getting the hang of Micthell, but loved this story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
David Mitchell is equalling and exceeding anything he has ever written with this book.
Qalamkar More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the worst books ever.
ksprings More than 1 year ago
This review was originally published on Kurt's Frontier. Synopsis: Holly Sykes is a 15-year-old who is sensitive to psychic phenomenon. She hears voices only of someone she calls “the radio people.” After a terrible argument with her mother, she storms out of the house, triggering the start of an adventure that will last her entire lifetime. She has come to the attention of dangerous mystics, and their enemies who seek to protect her. The loss of her eccentric younger brother scars her family and affects everyone Holly’s life touches. Review: There are many interesting elements in The Bone Clocks. David Mitchell deals with a rich tapestry of psychic powers. It is a story of psychic predators and those who seek to stop them. Caught up in this centuries long war is a young girl with psychic powers of her own. Her running a way triggers a series of events that scar her and influence the rest of her life. The book uses the first person point of view. However, the book makes huge jumps in time and constantly shifts points of view. While there are a few gripping comments, much of the book is long exposition and far from a page turner. The author makes use of flashbacks which further arrests the forward progress of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found it almost impossible to put down, well worth your time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GregZimmerman More than 1 year ago
Best book of the year - and it's not even close.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago