The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell
A book where you can press button A or button B before reading. If you press button A, then you haven’t read The Bone Clocks (2014) and The Thousand Autumns … is a purely historical romance set in the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki in 1799/1800, when Japan was closed to all foreigners except the permitted few. It has trademark Mitchell stuff of telling the same story in different timelines and the points of view of impeccably distinguishable different characters (the bastard). There is a bad guy who claims to be centuries old, with an apparent blink-and-you-miss-it ability to snuff out the lives of small creatures from a distance, but hey, this is exotic C18 Japan where nothing is quite what it seems. And there’s another character who is described as an “old soul” and who gives a throwaway line about his life such as it is beginning when he was a 6 year old boy, but other than that he just comes across as a cantankerous but capable physician, a Renaissance man, a skilled and cultured individual who plays an indispensable background role.
But this latter chap is called Marinus, and if you press button B then you’ve read The Bone Clocks, where Marinus is a major character, and you know he is in fact one of a race of mostly immortal non-corporeal beings locked in an endless struggle with psychic soul-eating vampires. In fact, The Thousand Autumns … is really just a skirmish in the centuries-old battle described in The Bone Clocks, told from the points of view of mortal bystanders who have no idea what is really going on and are applying their own understanding and interpretation to – well, everything.
I love it when that happens.
And I’ve just finished Mitchell’s Slade House, which is an unusual Mitchell creature in that it’s quite short and linear. This is definitely a button A book. It’s The Bone Clocks lite, maybe bits that didn’t quite make the final cut or didn’t fit into the main story. It’s like what you’d get if you clicked on “Extras” on The Bone Clocks DVD. The chapters are set at 9 year intervals, and in each one the soul vampires nab another victim and have long “as you know” conversations with each other so the reader will understand enough to make sense of the last chapter, when Marinus turns up and sets everything right.