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The Chimes

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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 blasphemy, 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.

A stunning literary debut by poet and violinist Anna Smaill, The Chimes is a startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.

291 pages, Hardcover

First published February 12, 2015

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About the author

Anna Smaill

4 books96 followers
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. Her first novel The Chimes will be published by Sceptre in Feburary 2015.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 611 reviews
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,113 reviews8,043 followers
August 23, 2015
This is a love letter: to the power of music, to the pain and beauty of memory, and to love and understanding. Take my word for it, and go read this book.
Profile Image for Katie.
263 reviews333 followers
October 11, 2016
“But some memories are more important than others,' she says. 'Because some memories belong to more than just one other person...Some memories tell us about who we are. They need to be kept safe so that things can change for all of us."

This is set up so well, a mysterious dystopian London, sort of medieval in character, where a young orphan, Simon arrives with an important mission he knows he will forget as soon as evening arrives. He will forget because a totalitarian regime is in power and besides having destroyed the written word has built a gigantic musical instrument that plays at vespers every evening a music so devastating that it has the power to erase memory and even induce sickness. Every person has a few “objectmemories” like the few mementos a dementia patient has in her care home room but essentially has to begin each and every new day from scratch, in the perennial limbo of amnesia. (Probably worth saying here that this is not recommended for anyone who takes a perverse delight in not suspending disbelief! Some of the premises of this novel do not hold up too well to deep enquiry. How, for example, do the police remember they are the police if everyone’s memory is erased every night? In fact, how is there any order at all? However to a large extent Smaill’s beautiful prose, as intricately woven as the web of a spider, takes care of this problem. It bewitches you away from the sceptical rational questioning voice within and envelops you in the story. )

I would say it’s a novel of two halves. The first half I loved to bits. Simon teams up with a pact of young outlaws who live by the river and forage in underground tunnels for “mettle”, a commodity they can trade for food. The leader of the pact is the enigmatic Lucien. It will be Lucien, a renegade member of the Order, who helps Simon recover his memories. The novel changes tone about half way through – marked by the appearance of a rather twee clichéd eccentric old female character, the last surviving memory keeper. At this point it felt a bit like an editor or agent had intervened and said, how can we make this more commercially appealing? And all of a sudden the novel becomes a romance and an adventure story, its lovely literary qualities replaced by a lot of whimsy and a Hollywood plot – two lovestruck freedom fighters – with the twist that they are gay - take on a totalitarian regime single-handedly. It’s still enjoyable but I did feel a bit let down. However, on the whole, a tremendously impressive debut novel.

Profile Image for Maciek.
558 reviews3,270 followers
September 30, 2015
The Chimes is one of the candidates longlisted for this year's Booker Prize - a debut novel by the New Zealand poet and violinist, Anna Smail. One of my goals is to eventually read not only every Booker winner, but also every Booker nominee; I picked up this book since it seemed to be the more intriguing of the lot, and a good candidate to start this year's Booker list with.

Set in an alternate London and nearabouts, The Chimes introduces what could be an intriguing dystopian world: people have been forbidden to communicate with words and form any memories by the ruling body known only as The Order. The Order has devised an immense musical instrument, known as the Carillon, which gradually erases memory via sound. Unable to memorize anything, people have to rely on objectmemories - evocative items that they carry, and bodymemories - memories ingrained in their muscles and bones. Since language is impossible to retain in such circumstances, people communicate by music - the world is governed by and revolves around sound.

This is an intriguing premise, but despite all its promise it failed to grab my attention and often became tedious. Although the novel is written in what is meant to be a lush, lyrical language - various musical terms are used in abundance - I couldn't help but note that the entire novel was little more than a set up of something bigger, which ultimately failed to materialize.

The Chimes has been compared to Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, aka The Golden Compass, a book which I read and loved. In Northern Lights, Pullman has created his own alternative England filled with a true sense of wonder - and a real sense of a grand adventure, with a great protagonist. I couldn't help but be involved in Lyra's world and enjoyed every moment I spent with her and her Daemon as they made their way all the way to the far, inhospitable north. In comparison, the main protagonist of The Chimes, Simon, is a character I found completely unmemorable, and hard to be interested in.

Despite the author's obvious ambition and dedication to creating it, I thought that the world of The Chimes completely lacked the wonder and intrigue of the alternative world of Northern Lights - precisely because it did not feel like a real world, but an artificial creation; the reader experiences it by being told about it through other characters, and not discovering it on their own. Essentially, the various details about the present state on the world feel like giant infodumps, and become tiring very quickly. The various ornate descriptions and ideas of the book do not mask the fact of its rather bland storytelling - there is hardly anything original in Simon's quest, and very little which would surprise us along the way. With an uninteresting protagonist and unnatural world, how far along can you go? I went all the way to the end, but came away disappointed.

This is my first selection of this year's Booker nominees - and despite being marked as adult fiction, I feel that it would be better described as a YA novel - and the first of an eventual series which would develop the world more, and create more interesting characters who would embark on a real, intriguing adventure. As it is now, it just doesn't do that, which is its greatest flaw.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,161 reviews2,010 followers
October 28, 2016
When I read the blurb about this book I thought I was going to like it and I did! I do enjoy the occasional dystopian story, especially when they are original and well written and this book is both.
The English setting of course pleased me greatly. I know London and Oxford and the area in between quite well and I love the way place names were retained even though so much else had disappeared.
The writing is poetic and beautiful and made more effective by the inclusion of so many musical terms. The idea of so many people trying to live their lives without their memories was quite shocking. At one point the main character describes how it feels every day to wake up without those thoughts of yesterday and the moments of blankness and panic until he can recall who he is at the very least. Scary.
So, original story, poetic prose, two talented and charming main characters. It ticks all the boxes for me and I am giving it five well earned stars.
Profile Image for Jenny.
188 reviews1,315 followers
August 13, 2016
This was a very refreshing and unexpected take on dystopia! First of all I didn't even KNOW this was going to be a dystopian, but I was very positively surprised. The story unfolds beautifully and the character relationships develop very naturally. If it weren't for the very confusing world building in the beginning this probably would've gotten 5 stars.
A slight disclaimer: unless you have some more in depth musical knowledge, you might have to google your way through the first third of the novel :D
Profile Image for Holly Dunn.
Author 1 book770 followers
June 4, 2016
3.5, maybe 4. I was interested to find that when Anna Smaill was writing this she thought of it as a young adult novel. Her publisher had other ideas, and it was instead marketed as adult fiction. This made a lot of sense to me, having just finished the novel, because, while the first half of the book is quite experimental and beautifully written, the second half felt like tripping down a rabbit hole into YA dystopia. Let me elaborate. The first half is eerie and foggy in the same way the Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel The Buried Giant is. It isn’t clear what is happening, and the characters are suffering from chronic memory loss. Smaill’s language in this section is exquisite, and I love the way she weaves musical terminology into the everyday dialect. By the halfway point the plot of the novel is still a mystery, but it sets the scene perfectly and gives the reader a real sense of what it is like to exist in this world. After that though, the pace picks up and we come to understand a bit more of the history behind the Chimes (the elusive force that keeps the masses subservient amnesiacs). I feel that most readers will either like the first section or the second section, but few will love both. Personally I enjoyed the mystery and mastery of the first part, but found the second to be overly rushed, although those who love a good plot will appreciate the completeness of it.
910 reviews256 followers
July 5, 2019
Oddly, beautifully unique - music is woven into every page, every line and it is a lovely thing. Some parts make little sense until pieced together later on but this feels completely intentional - the reader following in the path of the characters' own confusion. I found it hard to focus on at first, until a little before halfway through when the story changed and gripped so tightly I couldn't put it down until the final page was turned.

I'm usually a little dubious of Booker Prize listed books, finding them (often, not always) rather dull, to be honest. I also seem to be avoiding books by New Zealand authors, with no rhyme or reason behind it... The Chimes proves both of these biases completely unfounded.


Well, The Chimes just won the World Fantasy Award 2016 and I am feeling an odd, uncomfortable feeling... can't say I've experienced it much before so if I had to hazard a guess I would say it might be, perhaps... a mild case of patriotism? (I think rest and a good dose of reading is needed to shake it off)

Seriously though, enormous congratulations to the very deserving Anna Smaill!
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,937 reviews427 followers
March 27, 2019
As you probably know, long reviews of books are not my thing. I find two-to-three paragraphs enough and any more is wasted words. If three paragraphs cannot get you to read a book then nothing will. Having said that, I have no idea how to fit my feelings and thoughts on this book in to three paragraphs. I cannot even sit here and think of how many stars to give the whole thing: instead I have individual ratings for each aspect of this book and that is what I will now do.

The Chimes is set in a re-imagined England, specifically in London and a few outer regions, and concentrates on Simon's story, a young man who leaves his home in Essex and travels to London. The story is told through his eyes, or more accurately, through his ears.

The written word is banned in this alternate world. There are no books or magazines or small pieces of paper with crudely jotted down anecdotes or poems: they are all gone and none can read them anyway. Occasionally half-written words pop up throughout the story on the sides of old buildings but they mean nothing to anyone. In its place is music. Music is the most important thing and every person in this world can play an instrument or sing a tune. It's how they all communicate, either with their own made-up songs or with hand gestures that translate as Solfége (Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti). At specific times in the day they all stop what they are doing and listen to the music that comes from the sky: The Chimes.

Simon doesn't remember why he is in London. Memory is not a sacred thing; it is not something they can hold on to anymore. Chimes ring out every day and they make the people forget their past. But the people have objects in their possession that can help them remember. A broken piece of china. A Lighter. A picture. A ball of string. Each night their memories are lost, but handling these objects let them remember, if only for a few moments. But Simon has started to remember things; little things at first, like what happened yesterday before the Chimes, but after a while he begins to remember other things. Things from longer ago. Even things he did with his friends; Lucian, Abel, Brennan and Clare. Conversations he had, places they had been.

This book is bloody complicated. Unnecessarily and necessarily so. There are few books that alienate the reader as much as this one, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh being one of them. To begin with, you need some knowledge of music in order to fully understand what is happening because throughout words are substituted with musical words: suddenly is replaced with subito; slowly is replaced with lento. For example; "subito I am running."

The book has no guide except to explain solfége at the beginning; a completely and utterly pointless task. I have half a mind to provide you with a guide myself, but it is not my place to do so. If you do not read music and don't understand what subito and lento mean you will probably get lost very quickly and give up. If I had bought this book in a shop off my own bat I would have given up after only a few pages. After a while it does become almost background and those words become as pointless as suddenly and slowly are in normal narratives.

It is pretentious in a Classical way. By that I mean the way the Classical Music thinks it is higher than others, and the way Classical Literature thinks it is higher than others. I do not think the author intended the pretension quite like this (does any author ever really intend to be pretentious?) and you can clearly see that she has had classical training and is dearly in love with music and all of its trimmings. It is a bold thing to do and I applaud it, though it is not to my taste.

Cover - 5 / 5
Whilst I know that authors rarely have a say on their front covers, except for perhaps saying "yes, that's good", before their book goes off to be printed, and there is the age-old saying "do not judge a book by it's cover", I cannot get past the wonderful cover of this book. It is sublime. If I had not been sent this book to review, I probably would have bought it at some point down the line because of its cover. This rating has no baring on the author, the writing or the book as a whole. It is pure coincidence that is has an utterly beautiful cover, that is all.

Narrative - 2 / 5
I very often shy away from First Person Narrative (or Point of View) because I find it often far too personal to the author, as if they are living this dream world that the character inhabits. I can rarely expunge the difference between the two and the author can never truly hide it, even with a change in gender or name.

It was also written in very short sentences. Hemingway would be almost tearing up at the shortness of these sentences. Although I am aware they are meant to portray the thoughts of the protagonist, Simon, I still found them to be often jarring and incomplete, sometimes almost incomprehensible.

World Building - 4 / 5
This alternate London is extremely intriguing, though not without price. It is a post-apocalyptic world with an oppressive regime (though here it is not aggressively oppressive, more passive-aggressive-oppressive) and there is no technology. It is almost medieaval, but in a modern setting. Food is scarce, people are dying for no reason and there is no memory, let alone the ability to think for oneself. For being set in such a small place, it is complicated and seems vast. One often wonders of the wider world and whether it is like this, but there is no way to know.

Lexis, structure, etc - 3 / 5
The lexis was pretty terrible, in truth. Whilst this may have been a fantasy tale and using different lexis (or words) to make it seem more fantastical (like putting a 'y' in to a name instead of an 'i' to make it sound more fantastical, or calling a cow a flees) can be a dangerous path to tread. Some words remained the same as our own, like subito and lento. One would expect the musical words to make sense, as this world still retains music from the likes of Bach, but orchestra is spelt orkestra, police as poliss, and electrics as eletricks. It is infuriating and there is no meaning behind it. Whilst I understand that those saying these words would not know how they are spelt, they are not the ones writing this down.

There are also made-up words for everyday, normal things. A guide would be extremely helpful because even now, though I know "Eightnoch" probably means a time of day, I still cannot fathom when on Earth it is.

The structure is sound and extremely modern. It fits in well with the style of narrative and tone of the book. The book has parts, the parts have chapters and the chapters have paragraphs. I think if the author had tried to make it any different it would have been too much.

Dialogue - 3.5 / 5
The dialogue was fine. It read as real speech, though I felt there was too little of it at times, and quite often a lot of the information gleaned was from the dialogue only.

Information - 2 / 5
After about 100 pages there is a huge info dump. If I had bought this book as opposed to having been given it to review out of good faith, I would have stopped reading long before 100 pages. I suggest you persevere until page 100 or so, where you find out quite a lot. Most of it regards memories, specifically those of Simon's. A better threading of information from the beginning would have made it much stronger and drawn me in better. A Third Person Narrative would have provided this, but I can fully see why First Person Narrative was chosen because the way people see the world here is exactly as a First Person Narrative and not omniscient like a Third Person Narrative.

Influence and reference - 5 / 5
I loved learning about the Ravens of the Tower of London. That was something I had not come across before. Learning about music was also very interesting, despite the fact that it alienated me from the very beginning and almost kept me at arms-length throughout.

Contemporary - 4 / 5
There is no doubting this book is modern. All aspects of it scream contemporary, despite it being set in a Medieaval-esque world without technology. There is a plot line that really screams modernity, which I will not convey for fear of spoilers, and I have separate views on that entirely, but contemporary writing really threads well through this novel. With any other setting or mode/genre of writing it probably would have fallen short.

The Arc - 3 / 5
A story arc is basically how the story progresses from beginning, through the middle to the ending. (Technically there are deeper, wider notions to the story arc (about 8 "stages"), but for preservation we will just refer to the Arc as the plot thread.)

The story arc was slightly broken, as in it did not seem to begin at the beginning but somewhere near the middle. This occurs quite often in novels (especially first novels), where the writer tries to "set the scene" instead of just starting the story. I felt the ending to be slightly anti-climatic, but for non-spoiler reasons I will not state why, but I will say it was only because my confusion was with me throughout the novel.

I have not reviewed a book like this for a long time. By that I mean commenting it and analysing it like I would books when I was at University. For that I could give this book 5 / 5 stars, because I have truly missed doing that. It is not perfect and I would suggest it is not particularly written well, which could gain it only 1 / 5 stars. It was intriguing and often captivating, but then again it alienated me and occasionally I felt it beating me off for not truly understanding, making me feel uneducated and possibly a bit stupid. It was hard to get in to, but it was also hard to put down at times. I felt a resonance within me for the story it was telling, but I felt a dull echo alongside for the calamity it actually was.

I still do not know how many stars to give it. I have never come across a book I cannot assigned a rating to. Occasionally there will be a book that should be a 2, but I might give it a 3 for the cover or a certain way that book made me feel, or for making me laugh more than it really should have. I rarely give 5 stars because I feel people really over-sell and over-rate books and I do not believe they deserve a 5-star rating. Most of my 5-star ratings on GoodReads should actually be a 4.5 or 4.7. There are only two or three books I can honestly say should have 5.0-stars.

I cannot give it 1-star because it spoke to me on a deep level in a way no other 1-star book has. I cannot give it 5-stars because it was seriously flawed and, though there are no perfect books out there (that I have read yet) all of the books I have given 5-stars were given out of pure joy and adoration. I do not adore this book and I would not describe my feeling as I came out of it as joy.

I will probably re-read this book. I may have to, just to understand it. It has taught me a lot, mostly about music which is not an uninteresting topic to me. The storyline has almost become a by-product, but the world, the meanings and the writing is at the forefront. It is a contemporary classic, but at the same time it is not.

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Profile Image for David Harris.
856 reviews28 followers
November 29, 2014
There is a lot of debate on reviewer websites, book blogs and book podcasts about whether to persist with a book which is difficult to get into. There are so many books, and so little time, after all, that it's tempting to give up and move on.

But every so often a book comes along which rewards perseverance.

This is such a book, and while it may not be to everyone's taste, I want to persuade you to give it a chance, because, once you "get" it, it is beautiful, moving and - yes - exciting and dramatic.

We are introduced to a London not unlike our own, but distinctly pre-modern: there no machines and no electricity.

Following his mother's death, a boy travels from the bulbfields of Essex to find one of her friends in the city. What he is to do then we don't know. The atmosphere is very constrained: facts are few and hard to interpret. Smail is, I think, leading us into the mindset of her characters, showing what the world they live in like, through that atmosphere. So, memory is important. Somehow it keeps being lost: everyone forgets pretty much everything each day and has to continually relearn who they are and how to live. The only solid memories are those anchored in items which you carry round with you ("objectmemory") and in learned skills ("muscle memory"). There is always the risk - if one sets foot outside the familiar - of going adrift, becoming "memoryless", a hopeless, pitiable state. A story told about people like this is necessarily allusive, missing out facts and connections that have simply been lost by the characters, dwelling on the little knowledge and few incidents that they recall, celebrating and turning on minor - to us - triumphs of recall, before lapsing again into darkness and chaos

That makes it hard, at first, to enter the world of this book, as do - at least for me - the musical metaphors used in the story. This is a world where writing is banned, memories full of holes: but music is everywhere. Music supplies the place of maps, of print and television (instead of which, the citizens come together every morning and evening to hear the "Chimes" of the title, a musical creation broadcast on some remote instrument of unimaginable power which both binds them together and splinters away those precious memories).

Music soaks this book. Common words are replaced by their Italianate, musical equivalents - lente, subito - giving the writing a lush, alien tone. Distances are turned into "beats". Events "resolve". Music almost becomes an extra sense: things, people, ways are found and described through their tunes - a stall in a crowded market, rare treasure in the abandoned tunnels under London, the way back home after Chimes has struck. Here was a real barrier for me: I hear music, I enjoy music, but I don't understand the technical language.

It was, then, an absolute pleasure as - in my mind - the book slowly came together, with the background of the boy Simon gradually filled in and the nature of his quest becoming clear. Quite simply, he needs to learn who he is, what he has lost - and what he might become. And that learning is accompanied by the reader's growing sense of what is going on, almost as if one is sharing in the recovery of memory, the gathering sense of purpose of the character. It's simply brilliant.

Simon's discovery of himself is catalysed by his relationship with, his discovery of, a friend who also comes out of mystery. That developing friendship is at the heart of the book and it is a joy to read.

I don't want to gush. The book has flaws. Following the mysterious, allusive opening there is a large infodump somewhere around the middle, almost as though Smaill lost her nerve slightly and worried about the reader getting into the book. Yes, as I've said, some may find it difficult but once - as it were - you begin to hum along with the main theme, then you won't need a great deal of extra prompting. It is also quite a short book. The ending is, perhaps, a bit rushed: but then, it's also refreshing to see a story like this not padded out to the traditional trilogy.

So - not perfect, but a beguiling and immersive world, real characters trapped by a horrid religion/ philosophy and a wonderful, inventive way of telling a story that is perhaps the book's greatest strength, something different and breathtaking to read.
Profile Image for gio.
1,012 reviews386 followers
March 22, 2016

The writing was beautiful. But the book was a fucking SNOOZEFEST.

I guess I liked the idea of this book much more than the book itself. If I have to be honest I almost dropped it 50 pages in, because it was so...slow. The Chimes has such a slow and confusing start and I really struggled with it.

> The writing is beautiful. It actually saved the book from getting less than 2 stars from me. It shows that the author usually writes poetry, because her writing was poetic and lyrical and utterly beautiful.

> The idea upon which the book is based is extremely interesting. I thought the idea was far better than the book, which certainly isn't a positive thing, but at least there was an idea you know? Sometimes there isn't even that. Actually, the concept is remarkable and I was able to appreciate it in the last fifty pages or so, but I think the author could have done much better with such an interesting premise.

> The ending and the message are meaningful. I might have not liked the book as much as I wanted, but in the end I had something to think about, which is not to be taken for granted. I'll always be grateful towards books that made me think, whether I loved them or not.

However, I can't hide that I had big problems with The Chimes.

> The beginning is extremely confusing and difficult to understand and not because of the author's writing (that would have been my "fault", since I'm not a native speaker) but simply because some things weren't explained. I do not like info dumping, but I do not want to be thrown in a new world without explanations either.

> Slow pace, bored Gio. Yep, add to the mix that the book was incredibly slow and you get a quite bored reader. I'm a patient reader and I usually enjoy even slow paced books without problems, but in this case it was too much.

> I didn't connect with the characters at all. Their constant memory loss didn't help, because they all felt quite flat.

Overall The Chimes has its qualities. It's a powerful, meaningful read, with lyrical writing, but it might be a hard book to get into.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,005 reviews2,597 followers
May 6, 2016
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/05/06/...

Lately, several books have made me think a lot harder about the collective memory of humanity and this one is the most recent. What if we lost that memory, or something happened to prevent us from remembering? What if we lost the ability to record our memories and knowledge for posterity?

In Anna Smaill’s The Chimes, this is the reality for our young protagonist Simon. Orphaned and alone, with only vague instructions from his late mother to locate someone named “Netty”, he arrives in London feeling as lost as he could ever be. In the aftermath of a brutal civil war, the London in this alternate world has been transformed into a divided city. Most of its citizens do their best to eke out a modest existence, while the poor live in squalor in the slums. Only a select few are chosen and taken into the walls of The Order’s sanctuary where they stay for the rest of their lives, receiving the best schooling and learning how to compose the beautiful music played throughout the city every morning and night. These are known as the chimes, the songs that suppress the memories of the people of London—because a population that forgets is one that can be easily controlled and contained.

Simon quickly discovers that his task is hopeless. No one is willing to help, and in any case, he can do no more with only a half-remembered promise. Soon, however, he crosses into the territory of a gang of street urchins who end up taking him in, teaching him how to scavenge for the precious metals valued by The Order. This is how Simon meets Lucien, the group’s blind and charismatic young leader.

After a while though, Simon no longer recalls what it was that brought him to London in the first place. Still, like most people in this world, he carries a bag of trinkets and baubles associated with memories that might help anchor him to the past. Handling these objects allows a person to remember, even if it’s just for a short while. Gradually, Simon realizes he is starting to remember things, more and more and from longer ago. He remembers his mother, and the talent that she may have passed on to him. Together with Lucien, whom Simon grows to care for and love, the two of them prepare for a journey to fulfill a promise and to find out more about Simon’s gift.

Smaill has created a wonderful atmosphere in this book. In keeping with the novel’s themes, starting the first few pages of The Chimes felt uncannily like stepping into a kind of fugue state. At first it was hard to figure out what was going on, much like waking up to your surroundings to discover that you have no idea where you are, but your senses detect things that feel vaguely recognizable and familiar. For instance, we are told that we’re in London, but the descriptions of the city and its people feel completely strange and alien. Then there are the made-up words that pepper the narrative, and yet their meanings can often be gleaned from the more common words used to form them. Here and there, musical terms also replace certain adverbs. The list of such dissociations go on and on, which gives this book an almost dreamlike quality. It made getting into the story more challenging than most, I confess, but eventually the fog did clear as more of the world was revealed, and I was able to piece together the novel’s premise.

As you can probably guess from the book’s description, music also plays a huge role in The Chimes, no doubt inspired by Smaill’s own background as a professional musician and violinist. In this world where writing has been banned and the people no longer remember how to read, memories are lost shortly after they are formed, spirited away by the sound of the chimes every morning and evening. But music isn’t the enemy, merely a tool used by the oppressors. In fact, it has multiple other purposes, the foremost of which is to serve as another kind of language. Messages are sung, instructions or maps to places are given in a series of tunes, and as mentioned before, some words are replaced with terms used in musical direction—forte for loud or subito for quick, for example—and clever musical allusions are given to created words like “dischord” or “blasphony”.

The world of The Chimes is also one of the most fascinating and original dystopians I’ve ever encountered. Simply by suppressing the people’s memory, the elites are able to stay in power. However, everyone is aware that memory is important, as evidenced by smalls acts like the carrying around of bags filled with “objectmemory”. Losing that connection is like being lost and untethered, a terrible condition called being “memoryless” that puts fear into people’s hearts.

In the vein of world-building though, I do wish there had been a little more. In spite of the unique concepts described in this book, the details behind them are rather simplistic. Character development was also a bit sparse, though this may have something to do with the fact that Simon spends much of the book trying to piece together his memories and it’s admittedly tough to connect with a protagonist whose sense of self isn’t even entirely complete. In addition, while the prose is gorgeous, there is an abstractedness to it that may pose an obstacle for some. The writing style was what initially tripped me up, though in the end I was able to fall into the rhythm, but it did take me some time to get there.

All told, The Chimes is a novel that may require a bit of patience—but the payoff is worth it. It’s a lovely book with an unusual but spellbinding premise, and readers looking for a different kind of dystopian novel may want to take a look, especially if you have a musical background or a fondness for interesting ways to portray music in fiction. A beautiful story full of imagination and feeling.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,039 followers
December 3, 2015
I started this book because it was on the Man Booker Prize longlist, then set it aside for a while after it didn't make the shortlist. I decided it was worth finishing and went back to it.

I had some difficulties understanding pieces of this book, even sending me back to re-read the first fifty pages and watching various YouTube video reviews of it to try to sort it out. One video featuring two ManBooker Vloggers helped enormously, but it has spoilers if you care about that. They talked about how the book feels like it is in two parts, and that the author originally set out to write a YA dystopian novel which grew into a novel for adults.

AH. Okay, so that's a start in understanding it all. In some ways the characters are rather simple, and I suppose that could be partly because they were originally intended for a YA audience. It also could be because in this post-technology future world, nobody can retain memories. I almost grasp why, except the author doesn't explain some of the ideas that seem to conflict with the world she has created. What is supposed to be happening is that there is an enormous musical instrument (a Carillon) that wipes out memory and somehow resonates through Palladium, or "the Lady," an element that is used to build instruments. Palladium seems to be an aftereffect of whatever broke the world, shattering glass, etc. There are daily participatory musical rituals that perpetuate the memory loss but the people are compelled (forced?) to participate.

Music is in everything. Song is used to remember directions, places and objects resonate and thrum with the information about themselves, and people communicate sometimes in pure solfege. Italian musical terms replace adjectives and adverbs throughout the book; it seems like music if you are a musician (as I am) but you could argue it's just Italian since no other musical language terms are used. Simon and the other characters move through the world lento, events sometimes happen subito, etc.

The musical elements were where I started to get tripped up, rather than immersing into the world. I don't understand how people can communicate completely in solfege because that would only provide seven letters or syllables. Do-re-mi-fa-so-la. I don't understand how one central instrument can reach into the country and if that is what controls people, why they don't try using ear plugs. I don't understand why if people can't retain memories why they don't begin every morning in an amnesiac panic, why the people they live with aren't strangers, how they remember their jobs, etc. This is never sufficiently explained and it made the novel less believable. I love the idea of a world saturated and controlled by music (is it good or is it bad?) and where the most brilliant minds are used to improvise in perfect counterpoint. I'm just not sure it was as fleshed out as it needed to be.

The end of the book happens in a blur that would be great on film but I was longing for more time. There are important characters introduced too near the end; I think we could have known them earlier. I did have quite an emotional response near the end, which surprised me considering how lost I felt. That does speak to her ability to write characters that connect with the reader.

Simon is the main character, but he comes from the outlying regions. The other main character is Lucien, who has left the Order and lives a more rural existence. I think the novel would have been stronger if it had been longer and started with Lucien, or maybe alternated with his story. That would have been a way to understand more about what had happened, who these other people were, how the musical landscape worked, etc. I needed more backstory and details.

I am thinking about discussing this on a future Reading Envy episode because I haven't quite sorted out what I think. I'm definitely surprised it made the Man Booker longlist; it has a lot of potential but I think could have benefited from another round of edits and rewrites. The ideas are interesting but I'm not sure they all make logical sense, and if they do in this future world then it needs more fleshing out so the reader may understand them.

Discussed more in depth (and not very successfully) on Episode 044 of the Reading Envy Podcast.
Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews635 followers
August 23, 2016
A World of Music
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.

Only music remains. The ruined churches are curious relics known as crosshouses, but as in the Age of Faith, the people's lives are marked by the canonical hours—prime, sext, nones—and the chiming of the bells. Two occasions are especially important: Onestory at matins and the Chimes at evensong. Onestory brings the entire population together in a unison recital of the myth of their salvation from discord: "In the time of dischord, worship only words. Greedy is the lingua. Greedy are the swords." The Chimes at even, elaborately contrapuntal, is a reward for the work of the day, but an evanescent one, soon forgotten. The morning Onestory wipes the slate clean; even the concept of a past is blasphony.

But there are other uses for music. Music—or its visual equivalent, the hand-signs of solfège—can be used for simple conversation. People of exceptional hearing, such as Smaill's protagonist, a young teenage boy named Simon, can use music as a kind of map to find their way around. Though thrilled by the aural tapestry of London when he first arrives from the country (in the passage quoted above), what speaks to him most clearly is the call of a mysterious silence, which draws him to the river. There he meets up with a pact of other young people led by a blind boy named Lucien, whose musical gifts are even more remarkable. Each day, the five of them run in the under—the network of disused tunnels under London—prospecting for things that they can sell, guided by melodies and rhythms that show their way in the darkness and keep them together. But in his growing closeness to Lucien, Simon finds that music can have an even more important purpose: to help him store and recover memory.

This would make a marvelous gift for young adult readers, who would delight in Smaill's strange language—her combination of antique spellings and neologisms, and the persistence of musical terms throughout, even if they did not at first understand them. They would also be at home with the idea of the quest: Lucien and Simon going upriver to Oxford in an attempt to enter the Citadel and break the power of the Order. I think they would also take the sexuality in their stride. Smaill takes a while to give us the name, or even the gender, of her protagonist. At first, I just assumed she was a girl, and there is a curious androgynous quality that remains throughout the novel that gives everything an erotic charge. Yet it is not something you would classify in terms of gay and straight; it is quite simply love.

But this is not just a Young Adult novel; it is for anyone who loves language, and even more for those who know music. For Smaill's book is also about the qualities that bind us together as humans: the history we share and the stories we tell. Its glory is that, though the author writes of a time when the written word is under threat, she still uses words with the virtuoso skill of a poet. And the paradox of her view of music as simultaneously an instrument of enforced conformity and the song of the free spirit is simply brilliant, as is her insight to cast this in historical terms. The London that Smaill describes is essentially that of 1700, a city of street markets, guilds, and prentisses, where the music is played by highboy, viol, clarionet, trompet, and tambour. And the music of the Chimes, however elaborate, is all written under the strict rules of what, in the early eighteenth century, was known as "species counterpoint" (think Bach and his predecessors). The morning Onestory gives the "cantus firmus," or ground from which the elaborate polyphony of the evening Chimes—and by extension the lives of the entire population—may never depart. Though set in the future, this is a society caught in a time warp. The final scene, when Simon and Lucien reach Oxford, and unsanctified hands fall on the keyboard of the Carillon, makes a brilliantly effective climax in its own terms—but musicians will hear the entire history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century music compressed into a few pages, and they will marvel.

As a postscript, let me offer a quatrain from a poem Anna Smaill wrote in 2001, about the daily tug of the tide against the sea wall. She was a master of words even then, and it is clear that the themes of loss and forgetting have been with her for a long time:
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.
Profile Image for Regina.
248 reviews9 followers
February 5, 2015
I do not think I have read a novel quite like The Chimes before. It is unique and challenging.

By no means an 'easy' read. In fact a lot of concentration and commitment is required for about the first quarter of the novel as it is difficult to get one's head around what is actually going on. However, if one sticks with it they will be rewarded, and an understanding develops of why it was so difficult.

Very cleverly written. I don't want to say too much, as I think trying to provide any sort of background to the novel would remove a vital component needed for reading this novel. The component? Starting to read it without any real idea of what to expect.

If looking for something different, challenging yet rewarding then read The Chimes.

Thankyou to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,911 followers
November 9, 2019
This is a rather original work revolving around music, the magical effect of music on memories, and how it takes this idea and runs full-hilt into total worldbuilding with it.


I mean that certain music retains memories and others, including the Chimes, takes it away. Most of the world, or at least this oppressive, poverty-stricken future London, has forgotten itself. The Chimes are played to keep all the memories lost.

I love most of this. I really do. You can tell the author is very deep into her music. The main character and the group he runs with plays beautiful music, combatting the effects of the Chimes, surviving like street urchins, and finding love among all the questions and developing the tale into a quest to stop the Chimes.

I really enjoyed that.

What I didn't particularly enjoy was the slow, almost impersonal way the characterizations developed. It took a long time for me to wind my way through the musical riffs before some juicy handles presented themselves.

And then there was the way normal words were changed in spelling, for worldbuilding effect, that didn't really seem to have a reason. I didn't get the impression that this was a journal written by someone who had lost his ties with our standard language. I understood that Simon was a farmboy with some rather awesome musical talent and a side-talent for saving and storing memories. Writing, except for musical notation, seemed to be quite secondary.


That being said, I did enjoy the oppressiveness and the rather jazz-like discoveries and movements in plot and setting. :)
Profile Image for Doug.
1,937 reviews670 followers
September 15, 2015
More like a 2.5. From what I'd heard/read, I was really looking forward to this book, and although some of it was mildly enjoyable, I don't think Smaill understands the difference between being enigmatic ... and downright obtuse. Unless I missed it, I didn't quite understand the correlation between music and its use to simultaneously stifle/stimulate memories, nor why a totalitarian 'Order', which seemed to be under absolutely no threat of being overthrown, would be using music in such a fashion. Not being particularly musically inclined myself, all of the musical nomenclature and metaphors just bogged down what was already overly flowery prose.

I understand the book was originally intended to be marketed as another in the unending series of YA dystopian fantasies, and it actually seems more appropriate for the Hunger Games/Divergent crowd than a serious contender for the Booker (although it does somewhat resemble a few of last year's nominees - J and The Bone Clocks in the creation of a thinly disguised fantastical present/near future; Orfeo in its use of music as a plot device, The Wake in its creation of a faux language ... and even this year's A Little Life, with Clare's habit of cutting herself to dull pain similar to Jude's). Also, aside from Simon and Lucien, the characters lacked definition (and I noticed the author herself even got confused: on page 252 Martha is confused with Mary!) Points for making the protagonist an (apparently) gay youngster, instead of the usual plucky heroine vacillating between two strapping boys; however, the relationship between Simon and Lucien is about as lukewarm as can be. I'd be really surprised if it made the Shortlist.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,643 followers
May 22, 2016
After having read half of this book, I've decided to DNF it. Not because it's bad, but because it's just not a book for me. The story is definitely very original and quite intriguing, but it's written in a very messy and boring way, and 50% through the book I'm still not interested in any of the characters. Unfortunately! :-(
Profile Image for RitaSkeeter.
693 reviews
October 30, 2015
I've seen this book described as a dystopian, but I really don't agree with that at all: I think this is more an 'alternate reality'. The book is set in a future England where memory no longer exists, being taken away by the Carillon, a large instrument wielded by a group of magisters. As the Carillon chimes, memories for the day are wiped. There are a few exceptions; people have 'body memory', they may have physical items that carry some memory for them, and there are those like our protagonist who can remember and who can hold the memories of others.

When the water lies at the far edge of the sky. At its edges the two elements are blended. Forgetting and remembering are like that. It's hard to tell one from the other at times.

Thematically, this book is a sibling of The Buried Giant. Both explore the meaning of memory and how it shapes who we are. Whether the mess and 'dischord' of our past, shackles and binds us. Whereas order and free from memory we are saved from ugliness and pain. Would you give up your memories if you could? Would you give up the pain, sorrow, hurt, fear, you have experienced? But what if the cost was also the love, joy, contentment you had also experienced?

Although the book is thematically interesting to me, and presented in an intriguing way, the reason this book 'chimes' or sings for me, is the language, for example, this description of written music - Scratched in deep across the broad back wall are two long sets of five horizontal lines, shapes trapped inside them like creatures in a cage.
This is not a long book, but it took me a long time to read it. The language is so precise, intentional, and beautiful that I just sank down into it. Often have I lamented that I've not found a book that really captures the impact of music on people. But I've found it: this is the book.

This is a book that, despite being words on a page, engages all of your senses. As you read you see, you feel, you hear, you smell .

My whole body is dripping with silver, humming with it. The resonance seems to begun inside me, in the bones behind my ears, and run down my spine and out to the tips of my fingers. I feel as if my spine is a candle and there's a white clear flame emerging from the very top of my head.
Profile Image for Elaine.
777 reviews360 followers
September 23, 2015
Intriguing sci-fi/fantasy dystopian first novel effort. Clearly a lot of talent here, but the novel is very uneven. A deeply intriguing world is created - I've read complaints about how confusing it is, but I enjoyed the work. Unfortunately, just when you have your bearings and are really enjoying Smaill's creation, the story shifts into a much more conventional quest novel.

You know, the one in which a handful of young people must destroy a totalitarian state by traveling to the center of power and attempting a raid on its heart. I think we've all read that one before.

So the early London sections - the most evocative - are at once too long (because they end up not mattering much for what comes after) and too short (because they create a world and a set of relationships we actually care about). That imbalance also creates what feels like a huge rush at the end. 90% of the "plot" occurs in the last 20% of the pages.

There is also a bit too much musical terminology here - if you aren't versed in music (and I am not), that can drag. And the problem with a fantasy that drags is that it gives you too much time to take a step back and witness all the gaps in the foundation. My willing suspension of disbelief became less willing and less suspended at such times.

That said, there were some excellent chapters in here, and I would read another by Smaill.
Profile Image for Figgy.
678 reviews219 followers
February 25, 2015
The Chimes starts off slow, heavy.

At first, you find yourself wondering if you’re perhaps too tired to grasp the concepts, to see what’s going on, to understand the words before you. Maybe you need a little while after the last book you read, maybe you’re rushing it.

You’ve been thrown into this world which is like ours in some ways, but so very different in others. You recognise the names of places, instruments, and other daily things, but you’ve also been introduced to so many new words, that at first you feel a little lost.

The sentences are pretty, you know that much. But you’re not quite sure what they’re saying.

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.

Matins? Vespers? Presto? Lento? Subito?
No one told you you would have to learn a different language to read this book!

I advise you to stick it out.

The rest of this review can be found here!

Profile Image for Amanda Landegren.
90 reviews130 followers
January 27, 2016
I like this book for its imaginative world building. The musical imagery in connection with the musical language makes the read very vivid and atmospheric.

However, while I thought the structure was skillfully composed, it ultimately became this book's downfall for me. The author manages to convey a feeling of chronic memory loss and everything starts to clear up as the characters retrieve their memories. The unfortunate effect of this was that you as a reader initially had very little clue about what was going. The disconnection to the plot and the characters makes the the story hard to get into and only the writing made me continue. Once the pieces started to come together, the novel reads more like young adult than anything else.

In terms of characters; I did not find them that interesting. There was nothing about Simon that made him stand out and he (and the others too) felt quite one-dimensional and underdeveloped.

I had very high hopes for this book and while I was initially enticed by the beautiful language, the more I read on, the less engaged I became.

This book receives three stars for imagination, world building and description. Nothing else really caught my attention.
Profile Image for Hank.
779 reviews74 followers
June 3, 2020
3.5 stars rounded up because it was so different. The idea is/was brilliant, a world where memories do not persist, the masses can't read and communicate and give instruction through song. The prose was borderline poetic and very introspective. All the descriptions seemed to relate to the mood Simon was feeling at that point which if you think about it happens to all of us as well. The story was a bit tough to grab at first but I fell into it about 1/2 way through.

The problems and loss of stars was the world building. There were too many unexplained holes, inconsistencies, whatever, for me to stay fully immersed. Everyone can speak and communicate complicated ideas but they can't write? I could not piece together how the world works if everyone forgets everything once a day, it simply can't work.

I enjoyed it but had to turn off my rational brain too much. I definitely recommend the book for the ideas.
Profile Image for Charlotte Jones.
1,041 reviews133 followers
September 20, 2015
The premise of this novel intrigued me as soon as I heard about it but I was extremely disappointed. I got this book for review from the publisher but as always I have to give my completely honest opinions, I honestly I found that this book had a lot of flaws that I couldn't get past.

In this dystopian novel, music plays a huge part in the way people now communicate and music controls their lives in many ways. Although this concept was certainly intriguing, I felt that it was explored in a way that was predictable and in the end not that interesting.

The pacing was all over the place with the first 250 pages being painfully slow with very little plot and the final 50 pages feeling completely rushed.

Overall I was extremely disappointed in this book. I liked the concept and relationship but the story on the whole was so unbelievably disappointing.
Profile Image for Book Haunt.
170 reviews42 followers
September 1, 2017
Young orphan, Simon Wythern, leaves the farm he grew up on and heads to London carrying only his memory bag. In his memory bag are the items which contain the memories that he wants to hold onto, all the bits of the life he’s led thus far. You see, in Simon’s world, the only memories people retain are those that they carry in their memory bag. If you lose your memory bag, you become one of the nameless, those wandering without purpose, where each day is a new day, without memories of the days that came before, and there is only bodymemory left to fall back on.

The Chimes is a fresh piece of speculative fiction exploring a world I haven’t previously encountered. It is definitely different and has an intriguing premise. Being a music lover, I am not especially fond of the fact that music was used against the people in a negative way, but this story unfolds with a poetic beauty and style that makes it both unique and captivating.

I want to thank the publisher (Quercus US) for providing me with the ARC through NetGalley for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nita Kohli.
189 reviews47 followers
September 8, 2015
The Chimes is first novel from Anna Smaill and the book has been listed in Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2015). Before this, she has authored one book of poetry.

Book Cover

One word - Beautiful!!


The book is set in a dystopian world; in London which is very different from what we have in present.
The people cannot form memories; every day they wake up and form memories which are next day forgotten. Each day they have to re-learn about them selves. Also, there are no words. In the absence of words and memory what people have is music.

A young man, Simon Wythern arrives in London carrying with him his objectmemories - items through which his different memories are associated. He comes to seek the truth about what happened to his parents. In his journey he meets Lucien and in him he finds a friend, confidant and a lover.
Simon soon discovers that he has a gift that could change the state of people and the city forever.

What I like

The story is unique, though it's a dystopian book and there are several books available in this genre but what makes it stand out from the rest is its writing. The writing is beautiful and mysterious. One might find herself or himself lost in the beginning and for most part of the book one might not know what is really happening. The author has very cleverly interwoven the words to create a story that appears mysterious and magical at the same time.

What I don't like

I felt that the ending was kind of rushed.

My final thoughts on the book

The book is beautiful but it is not an easy read. One would need a lot of concentration and commitment to read this story. One might be so lost in the beginning that he/she might decide to give it up. Even half way down the book one is bound to be clueless but once the story unfolds its worth the reward.

I liked the story and the writing but it did not touch my heart though I did enjoy it.

So, if you are looking for book with unique writing and story, you should pick this up. But, once again, it is not an easy book! The language in this book is that of music - like presto which means quick, lento which mean slowly and so on. So, its like learning a new language to read it.

But, nevertheless, this book should be picked up for its unique style of writing.

Read this and my other book reviews at www.book-choose.com
Profile Image for alittlelifeofmel.
882 reviews342 followers
March 2, 2017
Thank you exams for making a 289 page book take me over 2 weeks to read!!

I don't really know how I feel about this book. On one hand, there is absolutely nothing I liked about this book. I cannot pinpoint 1 single aspect of the book that I enjoyed, yet I did enjoy it somewhat. basically my rating is: it was ok.

This book follows a future world where Chimes go off every night and everyone loses their memories. Simon, the main character, is able to remember things when he holds objects that have memories stored in them, which is a rare gift. The novel follows him and another person trying to end the Chimes essentually.

First thing you should know: there is 0 world building in this novel. Like 0. I have NO idea why the world is like this. They say it is something called Allbreaking, but there is no explanation of what Allbreaking is. There is a special Order, but no explanation of who they are, what they do, or what their position is. All I know about this world is that it's all about music. People speak through music. When you give someone directions, you don't tell them, you sing the way to them. I loved this aspect, but it wasn't explained so it was hard to understand and therefore didn't make any sense to me.

Also another thing is, the author made a character, Lucien, blind. But she had so many inconsistencies in this plot point. For one thing, this sentence: "it's too bright for Lucien to see, I realize, and I am unsure how much he is able to hear." If he's blind, why does it matter how bright it is? It is a really weird thing. As well, it could be that his sight is connected to music but since she didn't explain ANYTHING, I wouldn't know.
The writing was good when it wasn't confusing or complicated. And I did enjoy the characters.
Actually, speaking of the characters, they aren't explained in the novel. There is no description of what Simon or Lucien or anyone else looks like. I have no idea how old they are. I picture them 19-20 but they could be 12, they could be 52. I really don't know. This didn't actually bother me as I feel the characters are not actually the most important part of the book, but it was strange.

I honestly don't really recommend this book.

Around The Year in 52 Books Challenge #17 - A book with a beautiful cover
Profile Image for Maya Panika.
Author 1 book68 followers
February 19, 2015
I read many wonderful books but rarely anything so singular, poetic, exceptional, as utterly unique as The Chimes.
On the surface, this is yet another post-apocalyptic, dystopian story of life amidst the horrors of a state ruled by a remote elite - in this case, a quasi-religious order of absolutist purity, where words are nothing and music is all. The Order exert control by stealing memory, effectively crippling all dissent, keeping the population cowed and bovine, "nameless wandering ones... clustered for comfort... like sheep on the public green: memorylost". The Ravensguild, a loose gathering of dissenters able to retain memories, keep memory for others and pass them on, have been all but wiped out. Those who remain live isolated, in terror of discovery.
This is an absorbing and enthralling story lifted beyond mere page-turnery by enchanting, lyrical writing of unusual breadth and depth of imagination. Engaging characters speak a curious new language to fit this strange world ruled by music. People travel in beats, smell in song, move lento or alto -
"The first street I pass carries the waft and song of peanuts cooked in caramel... I pass bakers singing yeasted bread... the homely note of one tune weaves its way out of the rest... a solo voice singing, though it's not so much a tune so much as a quick underbreath patter to match the rhythm of boiling water and hissing water." It's clever, charming stuff, but never clumsy, difficult or unreadable. It does not get in the way of the story. It's a little challenging at first, but once you adapt to its rhythms and pace, the language soon makes perfect sense and what emerges is a cracking tale told with a softly musical, poetic touch. Anna Smaill's prose sings on the page and makes the grim, fallen world she imagines almost beautiful.
I feel the cover needs a mention too: so pure and stark with a centre-piece of vivid colour and detail. I couldn't stop looking at it.
Rarely do books hold quite such a rich and profound depth of wonders as this. This is the best book I've read this year by miles. If there's a better book to come, I can't wait to read it.
Profile Image for Waitalie Nat.
83 reviews57 followers
September 19, 2015
I began reading this book being fully aware of its weirdness and complexity - traits promised by more than one Goodreads review. I was also looking forward to its lyrical language and Smaill's personal twist on the dystopian plot. However. All in all, it just didn't work for me. Interweaving musical and regular language, although fairly interesting and original, bogged down the reading process and - as I don't consider myself a musical person at all- it made me think that I was constantly missing some key piece of information. The second half of the story felt excessively rushed and I thought that some issues were definitely left unresolved . And, in particular, I didn't enjoy the way Smaill dealt with the concept of before, the time preceding the events of the book, which seems to be a major issue with most dystopian novels. The details regarding humanity's downfall, the rise of the so-called Order and the creation of the Chimes were sparse, vague and unsatisfying. No real, convincing explanation was given in order to show how, exactly, humans went from here to there. It all just seems to have... happened.
Profile Image for Casey.
389 reviews96 followers
September 23, 2017
I'm really conflicted, but I did really like the middle. I shall be back with a full review once I've got my thoughts in order *sings song to help me* 😂
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