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It just looks pretentious
on 17 June 2011
The Echo Chamber should have been better, but it just didn't work.
First there's the basic premise. A woman, Evie Steppman, who is losing her hearing wants to record her life before she finally goes deaf. Er... why? Particularly when so much of the exercise seems to involve typing up text that exists elsewhere.
Then there's the bizarre timeline. We're supposed to accept that Evie's grandfather was in a geriatric home with dementia in 1972 and still there post 1997. I don't think so. Then there are the, frankly, incredible plot lines. Evie's father abandoned her in Nigeria when she was born in order to sail back to the UK to bury Eve's mother who had died in childbirth. Hmmm. And then there's the idea that even when he returned, he never bothered to name her - allowing her name to be set by accident years later in a children's game. Cute, but quite unlikely. And at the end, Evie's immediate plans are simply inexplicable. They have no basis in previous characterization or rational sense.
Luke Williams strives to create a literary feel to his work. In the main, this is done by making crucial moments of plot harder to understand by using oblique language. There is imagery which is obviously supposed to mean something - the mappa mundi going mouldy; the watch with only one hand; the mice in the attic - but it's too obscure. It just looks pretentious.
The effect is an overwritten and rather dull novel. The narrative simply has no feminine feel to it. Aside from the occasional mention of wearing a dress, Evie's voice sounds unremittingly male. And dead. The one exception is a section of diary, supposedly written by Evie's female lover Damaris. This relatively long section feels like a breath of fresh air - it sounds authentic, female, engaging, emotional. It later transpires that Luke Williams didn't write these sections himself - they were ghosted by a woman. Pity she wasn't asked to ghost the rest of the book.
There are some worthwhile moments. Some of the stories from the Lagos marketplace are lively enough - though the focus on sounds does seem a little contrived. But despite the sporadic moments of readability, the overwhelming aftertaste is frustration that something better wasn't done with the material available.