Review: The Chimes, Anna Smaill

The second book in my Summer Reading List.

Anna Smaill

A boy stands on the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain.

No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment.

No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden.

No parents – just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them.

The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air.

Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony.

But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, and sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon’s past.

A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthral and inspire.

I feel firstly as if I should apologise for previously referring to this book as YA. Upon further investigation I discovered that New Zealander Smaill actually rallied against her novel being described as YA, and that I should have known better to know that a teenage protagonist does not necessarily a teenage audience make. Especially not with a novel of this grandeur.

In fact, I think that’s probably a good place to begin: the complexity of The Chimes. Smaill has created a world where the future is dystopian and not at all recognisable, where musical terms have become a part of everyday language, replacing adverbs and adjectives, a world where most of the time I did not really understand what was going on, to be honest.

You have to admire her courage in the vastness of her ideas of musicality and collective memory, and I love that the issues she discusses are so universal and pertinent: how do we remember things, collectively and individually, and how do these memories shape us as human beings?

Things I loved: the originality of the story line, the idea that music hold some innate power within it, a same-sex romance which was beautiful and tender, and so so subtle.

Things I didn’t love so much: the fact that after having finished I’m still not sure of the finer points, or what to think, the lack of a character arc (in my eyes anyway), the idea that the ideas seemed greater than the execution.

I read a few reviews of The Chimes to try and work out what exactly I feel about this novel, and they seemed to be pretty split between unanimous praise and people, like me, who feel a little disappointed.

It took me over a month to read The Chimes and each time I sat down to do so I felt my concentration slip away almost immediately. Maybe that has more to do with my universally acknowledged short attention span more than anything else, but it does make me feel like I could never fully immerse myself in Smaill’s world, however unique and intriguing it was.

I’ll leave you with this quote from The Chimes which does well to summarise Smaill’s themes and agenda. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of the danger of a single story and I think The Chimes does well to remind us that human history is complex and diverse and fragmented, and our memories should serve to reflect this.

The Chimes Quote

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