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The Chimes Hardcover – 12 Feb 2015
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WINNER OF THE 2016 WORLD FANTASY AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL AND NOMINATED FOR THE 2015 MAN BOOKER PRIZE
To call The Chimes striking is I dare say to underplay what might be the most distinctive debut of the decade. (Tor.com)
SUPERB... intriguing, ambitious and strikingly written. (James Kidd, Independent on Sunday)
The Chimes is a remarkable debut. It's inventive, beautifully written, and completely absorbing. I highly recommend it. (Kevin Powers, author of THE YELLOW BIRDS)
A genuinely originalnovel that has all the tension of a well-told, gripping thriller, but which is elevated well above the ordinary by its shining, lyrical language. The author has created a believable, consistent and vivid world... (Clare Morrall)
Cleverly orchestrated and poignantly conveyed throughout. (Guardian)
The novel is hypnotic, melancholic and requires concentration, but it builds to an incredibly tense and emotionally satisfying climax that rewards all the effort. (Elle)
Smaill is a former musician with a book of poetry already to her name. The Chimes has strong echoes of both these influences as we're taken on a strange and lyrical journey through a dystopian England . . . The intrinsic links between music and memory suffuse this dreamy narrative . . . the idiosyncratic world [that] Smaill has lovingly created using melodic and musical syntax - her narrative style brimming with invention and nuance. (The Big Issue)
The pleasure lies in getting to grips with the rules of this eerie dystopia and the unusual vocabulary Smaill has minted to describe it. (Metro)
Atmospheric, intensely-imagined strangeness (Daily Mail)
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2015 MAN BOOKER PRIZE. A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthral and inspire.See all Product description
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On the other hand, by focusing her story on people with no memories, the author gave herself a bit of a problem. In the first third, when the narrator is suffering like everyone else, though his outlook on the world is intriguing, its hard to a)form any real emotional connection with him and b)gain any real understanding of this unusual world. And then in contrast, once he's (perhaps inevitably) learned to form memories again, there's little to make him stand out from any other hero in any other story. Overall, the first third was confusing and a bit of a chore to get through, and then the final third was rushed, somewhat generic and left more questions than answers. It was extremely unclear what the order were doing and why - was the loss of memories the whole point or an unfortunate side effect? How did they gain power? There was enough in the middle section to make me enjoy this overall, but I really felt I had to fight for that enjoyment.
Apart from the memory loss, the other notable thing about this book is the use it makes of music. At first glance, this is most noticeable in the way that musical terms like lento or piano are used in everyday speech and in the narration. I'm just about familiar enough with the terminology to have found that interesting rather than jarring. But the deeper, weirder part is that people sing directions to each other (seemingly without words) and sign sentiments (loss, sadness, respect etc) in solfege (do re mi fa so la to do). I love music and have sang in choirs, but I've always struggled when people talk about music telling a story or conveying emotion, and here, this concept is taken to extremes. I suspect you have to really love and understand choral/orchestral music and the underlying theory of it to properly enjoy and appreciate this novel.
One final thing that caught me by surprise but was rather appreciated - the central love story is between two teenage boys. It sometimes feels like "LGBT novel" is treated as a genre all or its own or at very least, made a huge fuss out of, so it was sweet to see this cropping up naturally in the midst of a literary-meets-fantasy novel of this type. The romance didn't blow me away, as I'd struggled to really connect with either character, but it was nicely done. That said, I did wonder whether a female character who was built up and then completely dropped from the plot was the original love interest or at least intended to have a more significant role, as her sudden disappearance was oddly jarring.
Overall, this is worth a read, if you can make yourself fight through the opening section and suspend disbelief sufficiently for the rest of it - particularly if you have a decent musical education. That said, I'm bemused by the Booker nomination. The author has to be applauded for trying something a bit different and for blurring the genre with the literary, but this was really not that outstanding.
It is an exciting book and yet I felt no temptation to rush through to the conclusion. the narrative was too lovely to skip over.
I took piano lessons as a child and will say that a basic knowledge of musical terms is helpful. Having to look up words may otherwise mar the flow of the tale.
Once the melody of this story is in your head it will echo for a long time afterwards.
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‘The Chimes’ is one interesting novel, at least in the sense that it’s had me thinking non-stop since I finished it.Read more