Book Review: The Chimes, by Anna Smaill

cv_the_chimesAvailable now in bookstores nationwide.

This book is a beautiful journey that draws you into a world of song and music: post-dischord London.

We begin the book as our narrator, Simon, leaves his home to travel to London. The narrative drives us ever forwards, as initially, explanation of backstory is beside the point when during Chimes each day, our narrator loses his memory of the day that has just been. All he knows, and this because he is special, is that he has lost something, and come from somewhere that has disappeared into the fog of what came before.

The book uses the language of music to tell this tale. The elite of the society our narrator lives in are virtuoso musicians, the guilds that exist in England are all related to the creation of instruments or the supply of basic services to those who do, and the joy of living is found in the creation of beautiful music. Silence is anathema, and mistrusted. But there are no memories beyond the ‘memory objects’ people carry with them, and bodymemory – memory created through repetition of tasks. This means there are no books – language is not written.

Simon finds his place in London amongst a group of five pactrunners, who run through the underground sewer system to find pieces of Pale. Pale, or The Lady, is Palladium – pure silver used to create the instrument that caused the dischord, distinguishable by the silence surrounding it. He and his fellows are led by Lucien, a blind boy who has a strange power over the group. Lucien uses chords, tones, cadences and phrases to teach the runners where to find Pale, which is traded for tokens to buy food at the markets. But what is the Pale used to do? And what are The Chimes, exactly?

I have seen early reviews that say this book takes awhile to get going, but I disagree. Without this knowledge of how the society works and the place of the key characters within it, you would be running without a tune to follow.

Anna Smaill is a poet, and it is with a poet’s touch that she has crafted each sentence. Her use of musical language does require some knowledge of musical terminology, but that should not dissuade anybody from reading this wonderful dedication to the light and the dark side of cultural mores. The Chimes is also, unexpectedly, a love story, and it is this string of the story that takes precedence at the book’s end. This is a beautiful story, and I want more time in this world.

By Sarah Forster

The Chimes
by Anna Smaill
Published by Sceptre
ISBN 9781444794533

I conducted an email Q&A with Anna Smaill, which will be up in a couple of hours, and feature in The Read, our booksellers’ newsletter.