There’s a possum who appears here at odd times,
often walking up the path to the house
in the middle of the day like a little ghost
with a long tail and a blank expression on his face.
He likes to slip behind the woodpile
but sometimes he gets so close to the window
where I am standing with a glass in my hand
that I start to review my sins, systematically
going from one commandment to the next.
What is it about him that causes me
to begin an examination of conscience,
calling to mind my failings in this time of reflection?
It could just be the twitching of the tail
and that white face, but his slow priestly pace
also makes a contribution, as do the tiny paws,
more like hands, really, with opposable thumbs
able to carry a nut or dig a hole in the earth
or lift a chalice above his head
or even deliver a document,
I am thinking as he nears the back door,
not merely a subpoena but an order
of excommunication with my name and a date
written in fine Italian ink
and signed with a flourish of the papal sash.
I doubt that David Mitchell’s intention was to return the secular novel to theological allegory, but that is what “The Bone Clocks” does. Above all, his cosmology seems an unconscious fantasy of the author-god, reinstating the novelist as omniscient deity, controlling, prodding, shaping, ending, rigging. He has spoken of his novels as forming one “Über-book,” in which themes and characters recur and overlap: an epic ambition. Battles involving men and gods are, indeed, the life-and-death-blood of the epic form. But didn’t the epic hand off to the novel, in the last book of “Paradise Lost,” when the Angel Michael tells Adam and Eve that, though they will lose actual Paradise, they will possess “a Paradise within thee, happier far”? The novel takes over from the epic not just because inwardness opens itself up as the great novelistic subject but because human freedom asserts itself against divine arrangement. The “human case” refuses to be preordained. The history of the novel can, in fact, be seen as a secular triumph over providential theology: first, God is displaced; then the God-like author fills the theological void; then the God-like author is finally displaced, too. Despite Mitchell’s humane gifts as a secular storyteller, “The Bone Clocks” enforces an ordained hermeticism, in which fictional characters, often bearing names from previous Mitchell fictions, perform unmotivated maneuvers at the behest of mysterious plotters who can do what they want with their victims. Time to redact this particular Script. ♦
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