I keep trying to recall some of the questions people asked Mitchell when he spoke here. One of them very clearly questioned the…overarching nature of his fiction; familiar things from previous books appearing in the new ones. Thousand Autumns wasn’t even out in paperback yet, I don’t think, so Bone Clocks wasn’t even on the horizon of those asking questions. Even so, there were two currents to the questions: a sense of betrayal that Thousand Autumns had lacked those connecting threads, and a much more resounding sense of…I don’t know what it was, exactly. Disdain? Dismissal? Coming from those who thought such connections distracting at best or gimmicky at worst.
I only have a dim memory of one of his answers–some sort of vague acknowledgment that, yes, there was this cosmology at work and it was intentional, and from there we segued off into the question of whether such a thing was ever completely avoidable in fiction, intentional or not–but I’m less interested in his own defense of his own books than of a defense of the act on the whole. Because yes, you are allowed those grand unifying theories. They’re your books, for crying out loud. Would you deny authors that? If they cannot make sense of this world–and they can’t, or they wouldn’t be writing–let them force a kind of sense onto their own worlds. Obviously this becomes problematic when you refuse to acknowledge yourself as a writer of fiction–when you author a religion, for example. But for the people who don’t claim to be delivering one grand truth–who acknowledge the fact of their fiction–why deny them that? Why resent them for it?
I’m leaving out entirely the question of the reader’s gain here, too. The little thrill of recognition when we read, in Number 9 Dream or Black Swan Green, of the atlas of clouds. Those are nice, sure, but those little thrills are not enough of a reason to devote so much of your time and energy into a whole new book. There needs to be personal gain, for you the author, I should think.
Which is why, no, I don’t resent the huge huge arcs penciled in between previous books in Bone Clocks. Why should I? If we are to take some of the balder criticisms leveled at Crispin Hershey as thinly-veiled paraphrasing of criticisms leveled at our own author who turned from “literary fiction” to “good god, Crispin, are you writing a fantasy novel?” then it seems that some people, at least, feel betrayed by such a move. By the existence of the Anchorites and Horology and the reappearance of Marinus and Oshima and Penhaligon and all the rest. Does it feel a bit rushed, reading about the history of all this in the final few pages? Sure. But it also feels as though we are being prepared for future books. I’d read about Marinus in any setting, for example; any life. Also, I should think a prolonged exposure to the writer’s circuit of talking heads and mugs miming for the cameras and too-eager bootlickers and endless travel would sour anyone on the vaunted notions literary fiction wants to claim for itself–at least in modern circles. One cannot discuss such things amongst one’s fellow humans for ten minutes without someone tearing their hair out over how kids these days / the internet / ipads / everyone of a different political stripe than oneself is Ruining Literature. So I imagine that the flight into a world of Anchorites and Horologists–or rather not the flight but the taking of each previous text in the fist and smashing them together with links, making them connect–feels somewhat liberating. If it enables the man to feel morally at peace with continuing the act of writing, why condemn it? He’s going to be worth your time whether he’s writing about worlds you recognize or worlds you wish you did. Either way, let him do his thing.
And hey, if we’re lucky, we might even get to see Sixsmith and Frobisher again. One can dream.