Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fiction Review: The Chimes

 The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.

In the absence of both memory and writing is music.

In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.
The Chimes, by Anna Smaill
2015, [Genre: Literary/ I-don't-know-what-to-call-this]
Source: I recieved a copy of this book to review thanks to Spectre and Bookbridgr. I recieved no other form of compensation and all opinions are my own. 

The Chimes is such a difficult book to review! I think if it proves anything, it's that I'm sometimes justified in my weird perseverance with books and inability to do-not-finish. For the first 127 pages I wanted to give up. Anna Smaill throws you into a world which is difficult to understand. We are following the perspective of Simon, a young man in an alternate London in which the written word is almost extinct and music is everything. Simon is struggling to hold onto his memories. How did he get to London and why is that important? Why are some events more significant than others? Why on earth do certain happenings seem to keep repeating themselves? (seriously, there was a lot of deja vu going on). There's no world building, we just get pushed straight down the rabbit hole. Combine this with an infusion of music into the language (which is beautifully done and by the end, gorgeously lyrical) and the whole thing is just hard to follow.

And then something just shifts and clicks into place. The story is no longer difficult and you start to understand why everything has been so confused. Gradually, we as the reader can start filling in Simon's backstory and see how he has reached where he is now and why he has reached it. The alternate world itself becomes more plausible as you start to grasp what has made it so strange. Before I quite knew it, I was hooked.

By the end, The Chimes had completely won me over. Anna Smaill has managed to achieve something incredibly difficult in a debut. It's a beautiful story, thematic and moving. If you can stick with it long enough, you realise that you're slowly unwinding a great mystery. There is a growing sense of purpose, with great commentary on the nature of good vs. evil, whether there can be some that have the right to make choices for all others, and whether not-knowing is better than knowing if not-knowing will save us from pain. Philosophical, inventive and with a breathtaking ending. It's also quite refreshing that The Chimes is obviously a stand-alone. If somewhat frustrating, because I'd be quite happy to see more of this world.

I realise I haven't commented overly on the plot apart from the beginning. This is purposeful on my part, because it's hard to do so without giving stuff away. However, even if the pacing is a little off at times (the second half feels very rushed in comparison to the 127 page drag that sets the scene) it is well plotted and sort of like watching a great flower unfurl.

On the whole? If you read for 'quick wins' The Chimes probably won't be up your street. But if you're happy to go into a book knowing that you're going to stick around for the long haul, I promise it's worth the wait. 4/5 stars.

Also, isn't that cover gorgeous? Even more gorgeous in person.

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