Title: The Chimes
Author: Anna Smaill
Rating: 2.5/5 (sorry Anna)
I had high hopes for this novel. Anna Smaill’s The Chimes was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and the New Zealand media went crazy for it, touting Anna as the next Eleanor Catton. Despite everyone else loving this novel, I found it to be dull and tedious with a shallow plot.
The novel plays with memory loss. Set in London, it follows a young man named Simon who is living in a world of The Chimes. The Chimes is a daily event where an instrument called the Carillion plays music across the country which wipes the listeners of all their memories from the day. This leaves the citizens living the same day over and over. But before Chimes happens, people can transfer a memory into a memory object and keep these objects with them as a way to know that their lives are changing. Simon, with the help of his friend Lucien who soon becomes his lover, discover that he can touch these memory objects and hear the memories within. They piece together the terrible past of The Order who operate the Carillion and set out to invade the Citadel and destroy the instrument.
The pace of the novel is glacial and I would read a few pages before bed just to fall asleep quicker. There is no action, no high point or low point that gives the story momentum. Throughout the novel are the memories of others that Simon is able to hear, and while they are supposed to be setting the novel and moving it forward, they felt as dull as a friend telling you what they dreamt about the night before. The characters are shallow due to a lack of backstory and the novel spends more time explaining what is going on rather than the journey Simon and Lucien are taking.
I found myself questioning the idea of memory loss. I have read Lisa Genova’s brilliant novel Still Alice which deals with memory loss due to early-onset Alzheimer’s so I expected that when a memory is wiped, the characters would forget people and places just like Alice did. However, that is not the case in this novel. Characters still somehow know each other’s names, they know places, they know of The Order and the Citadel and I find myself wondering how this is possible. There is a quote in the final act of the novel where one member of The Order says, “Take him back to London and leave him. He will soon forget what has happened here,” making the point that he should be forgetting that The Order even exists.
On a good note (pun intended), if you are a music enthusiast or a classically trained musician, you will adore the prose in this novel. She uses terms such as “lento” or “presto” to describe speed or sound as well as multiple references to instruments, music, and notes. I’m not a classically trained anything so I’m positive this novel has more to offer to those who are.
For me, this novel was a disappointment. However, this is a novel like no other and is worth reading just to say that you have. It isn’t long, which is a positive, but it is dull. So give it a go, at least you’ll still get admiration from fellow book lovers for reading a longlisted Man Booker novel.
You can buy it HERE at Book Depository!
Categories: Book Review
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