The Chimes is set in a dystopian future where the written word is banned, and the people are unable to form new memories or retain old ones. The population are controlled by The Order who are using the Carillon to play Chimes to make people forget: ‘In the time of dischord, sound is corrupt. Each one wants the melody; No one knows their part’. The people have learnt to communicate through memorised music and some try to remember by linking their memories with objects that they carry with them. Simon arrives in London with a bag of objectmemories but he soon loses his memory for why he is there and what he was searching for. He meets a group of people called Five Rover and begins to discover that he has a secret gift that could change everything.
It’s a fascinating concept in this novel that music is being used to control the people but at the same time people are finding ways to use music to communicate and to memorise where places are and who their group is so that they can function in their lives. As soon as I first read the synopsis of this book I knew I was going to adore it, and I was absolutely right.
From the very first chapter of this novel I was utterly captivated; the descriptions are so lyrical and poetic and very beautiful, I would have kept reading just on this basis alone but the story is completely wonderful too. I could feel Simon’s longing to know about his past, and his wanting to understand what was happening to him, emanating off the page.
The use of language is incredible. Smaill uses words that sounds like our language – prentiss for apprentice etc but also other words that I initially thought were made up but when I looked them up in the dictionary a lot of them are actual musical terms. I loved that it all made sense and yet left me feeling a little discombobulated at times when I wasn’t sure what these words meant, it gave me a sense of how the characters in this world must feel. I would highly recommend looking up some of the words you might not have heard of before, I learnt new things from this novel that heightened my understanding and love of the book.
I loved the word play throughout this book too. The characters are always searching for mettle for the Pale Lady (palladium); obviously the Palladium is a famous London building, and also a metal resembling platinum. I also enjoyed the references to childhood nursery rhymes like London Bridge is Falling Down; this was used so cleverly through the novel.
The world-building in this novel is excellent. We are thrown into the world Simon inhabits immediately on the first page but because it references famous places in London, albeit in a new context, it helps the reader orientate themselves very quickly. I could envision the Carillon so clearly and when Simon and Lucien set off together to find out more I felt like I was with them on their journey.
The idea of The Order burning books and some of the people trying to preserve texts (or code as it is in this novel) really appealed to me and it reminded me a little of one of my favourite books, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which is also set in a dystopian future where books are banned but a disparate group of people eventually find each other and find a way to keep their stories alive despite the fact that the powers that be are trying to suppress them. ‘Burnt books, burnt words. Memories that move in flames through the night sky’. There is something so moving in this line (and so many others in the novel), and it left me feeling uplifted knowing that people will always find a way to hold on to their stories, and those of others and society as a whole.
This novel really explores the idea of memory, of how and why we want to hold on to what has happened to us, and to wider society. Even though this is a dystopian future, I could really identify with the characters who were trying to hold on to their memories. I think we all carry an equivalent of a memory bag with us through life – there are certain belongings that we’d never be persuaded to part with because they are linked to times of our lives that were important. I felt such a connection with Simon for this reason and could feel his heart break when he had to hand them over in order to more forwards. I think the vast majority of us have treasured possessions that are kept because they bring memories of times past to the forefront of our minds in a way that just thinking alone doesn’t always do. So much that happens in this dystopian novel is grounded in a reality that we all know; these characters feel how we do and that is why it’s so easy to fall in love with this novel.
I can’t recommend this novel highly enough, it’s just so incredible. It’s going to be getting a place on my favourite books of all-time shelf (on my blog and in reality) and I don’t put books on there very often, they have to be very special to merit their place. I know the story in this novel will stay with me for a long time to come and that this will be a book that I will re-read again and again.
I rate it 5 out of 5.
Many thanks to Ruby at Sceptre for sending me a copy of this book to review.
The Chimes is out now in paperback and available from all good book shops.
Anna Smaill has created a world where music has replaced the written word and memories are carried as physical objects. Memory itself is forbidden by the Order, whose vast musical instrument, the Carillon, renders the population amnesiac. The Chimes opens in a reimagined London and introduces Simon, an orphaned young man who discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever. Slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember – to wake up. He and his friend Lucien will eventually travel to the Order’s stronghold in Oxford, where they learn that nothing they ever believed about their world is true.
The Chimes is a mind-expanding, startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination. A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthral and inspire. It was published in hardback in 2015 to critical acclaim and much rapture.
About the Author
Anna Smaill, 34, left formal musical training to pursue poetry and in 2001 began an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) at Victoria University of Wellington. Her first book of poetry, The Violinist in Spring, was published by Victoria University Press in 2005. She lived in London for seven years where she completed a PhD at UCL with Mark Ford and lectured in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter, and supervises MA students in Creative Writing for the IIML.
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