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291 pages, Hardcover
First published February 12, 2015
After a while my ear begins to hold the tunes in my head long enough to unpick them. The official conversations are loudest—roll calls for choir and orkestra rehearsals, poliss warnings, the announcement of a funeral mass. Below those are striding public conversations—calls for new prentisses, invites to buy food or beer. Then threading through narrow and low are the in-between melodies. The songs people sing piano to their loved ones, calling to their minds the good things of home and reminding them of the streets to take to get there. A woman's voice makes me lift my head. It's a song for a child, a simple lilted lullaby, and the sweetness hits me hard and for a while I can't move. I see the carter look at me again as I sit there with my face raised and eyes wet, and I shrug my burberry up, turn away.New Zealander Anna Smaill is a poet and musician. Both are evident in the voice of her debut novel (currently on the Man Booker longlist), which may be the most original piece of writing I have encountered all year. It drew me in eagerly to a genre I normally avoid—dystopian fiction—delighting me with the joy of hearing old things with a new ear. She imagines London following some cataclysm that has destroyed buildings, shattered glass, and annihilated electricity. Books everywhere have been burned; any occasional words that turn up are treated as code that no one can decipher. And without books is without memory. Some people carry around a few memoryobjects to remind them of special things, and retain some bodymemory of familiar tasks, but when these lose their power they join the increasing ranks of the memorylost.
There is no reminder of the breaking,
the halving of the sense at reason’s falling,
the excavation of the heart’s regions
as it is emptied out.
My name is Simon, I think. I live in the storehouse on Dog Isle, in the city of London. I am a member of Five Rover pact. We run in the under, and in the under we search for fragments of the Lady. We sound Onestory. We trade in the markets of London. We go silent for Chimes at Matins and Vespers.