I was kindly sent ‘The Chimes’ by Anna Smaill by Sceptre for an honest review.
Published 12th February 2015. Longlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2015.
The Chimes is a story of bravery and determination, written with depth and imagination that will attract readers of all genres. The scene is set in a haunting, dystopian London where the time period conflicts at times and could in theory be past, present or future. My preference is a desolated future where society has self-destructed. A religious group taking advantage of the situation claiming power and ownership for themselves to play God banning memories and written words, replacing language with musical dialect. Controlling society with song orchestrated in the heart of the Citadel by the Carillon, (this is a set of bells you would usually find in a church tower) brainwashing society with its harmony. ‘The Chimes’ comes at Vespers (Greek/Latin for Evening.) erasing memories followed by ‘One story’ at Matins (Roman Catholic – monastic nighttime liturgy, ending at dawn.) a bit like resetting to factory settings.
We watch the story unfold through the eyes of narrator Simon Wythern, a young lad who knows instinctively he is heading to London and that is parents are dead. But he is unsure why? Or how? Leading him on a beautifully complex and puzzling adventure where he must ……. Face the music.
But on a serious note…
Smaill’s poetic writing style is challenging, hypnotizing and intriguing. At times I felt like I was seeing the world through the eyes of Keanu Reeves as ‘Neo’ raining with octaves, clefs and notes in place of the matrix code.
Smaill certainly sets herself an ambitious task replacing language with music, which pays off really well certainly with originality. Should The Chimes come with a glossary explaining what all the terms mean? Maybe, although I found it added intrigue and fun, its not often I have to Google words to find out what they mean. I learned things reading this that I’m certain will come in handy during that Christmas game of Trivial Pursuit. Maybe at times I felt that Smaill’s language was somewhat restricted by her task and that words such as presto and lento became overused and less effective. Other words are played on where they could have a double meaning such as ‘mettle’, which means courage but is referred to as metal in the book. These words may be other musical dialect that I have not discovered.
Overall I found the book full of interest and intrigue that certainly tested my own mind. This is my view of ‘The Chimes’, however the scope of mystery left to the imagination is sure to have readers with many other perspectives and theories. 4/5
A little bit about the author – Anna Smaill lives in Wellington with her husband, novelist Carl Shuker, and her daughter. She studied performance violin at Canterbury University and creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at the University of Victoria, and has a PhD in English Literature from University College London. She is the author of one book of poetry (The Violinist in Spring, VUP 2005) and her poems have been published and anthologised in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.