Friday, January 16, 2015

The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell), All The Birds Singing (Evie Wyld)

Narrative time is distinctive in third culture literature.  In TCL, place tells you what time it is (the different eras or chapters in a story are determined by where the events happened more than when); in most other fiction, time orients you and place is subsidiary. You can juxtapose a contemporary TCL work and a contemporary non-TCL work and spot the difference.  Consider the two above, for instance.

David Mitchell is an English author who spent adult years (not childhood, developmental ones) travelling and living abroad in Japan, Italy and Ireland.  I would say he is well-travelled, but not a TCK.  Evie Wyld "grew up in Australia and London" (book jacket).  I would say she IS a TCK.

Mitchell's  Bone Clocks centers on Holly Sykes, telling Holly's life story in a series of episodes which feature a repeating cast of characters, some of whom do not age because they prey on the souls of others and enjoy  the suspension of time's aging properties (Anchorites, 452), and others of whom live again and again, albeit in different bodies, because their souls are reborn into fresh corporeal bodies when their old bodies die (Atemporals, 451).  His novel spans 1984-2043 (don't quit reading before the superbly rendered "endarkment" of the last 100 pages)

Wyld's fantastic, surprising and unnerving All the Birds Singing centers on a woman named Jake who is born in a roughly contemporary Australia, runs away from an accident, and then a pedophile, as a teen, and becomes a sheep-shearer, eventually moving to and buying a English sheep farm.

Mitchell's novel is all about time, and what it means to the mortal, or immortal, human.  We are continually reminded by its cover (with a clock face on it), section breaks (which state the year), chapter breaks (which state the day and month), and even page headers (which feature a clock face on which the hands progress as we move chapter by chapter through the novel).   Time clearly leads the way in terms of orienting the reader. It is linear, it moves only forwards and it is not disrupted. We know where we are in the plot because of time.  (Though readers hungry for representations of travel and many different places will enjoy that it is also profoundly international.  When atemporals are reincarnated they "die, wake up as children forty-nine days later, often on another landmass" (432).  The novel spans Europe, North America, Japan and Australia.)

Wyld's novel is all about Jake.  We want to find out what happened to her, and how she wound up where she is.  The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time, often with what are, initially, perplexingly abrupt transitions (or even a lack thereof) . . . Well, they are perplexing only until one sees that place will tell us where we are.  Her chapters open with  details that identify place. "Outside Kambada" (44); "We drive through an old flaky gate and up to a homestead . . . black hills in the distance"  (130) ; "working at the Hedland" (163): we learn that places are the settings for different eras in Jake's life.  The narrative is not linear, place leads the way, not time, and time is repeatedly disrupted.

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