Friday, 22 January 2016

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

review by Maryom

Following the death of his parents, Simon is leaving his home village in the country and heading to London; he has no clear memory of his past and no directions to follow, just a bag filled with objects that, when handled, help him remember very specific incidents, and a scrap of song that will lead him to a friend of his mother. Simon isn't unusual, for in this strange dystopian world memories are wiped clean at the end of each day by the sound of The Chimes, and lives are governed, directions given, goods advertised for sale, and information passed on by music and song.
In London, Simon by chance meets up with another boy, Lucien, who seems to have more ability to remember than most people, and who seems particularly interested in the small snippets Simon can recall from his past. Gradually Simon begins to remember more, and with growing uneasiness realises he was sent to London with a specific purpose.

A bit like plunging into a cold pool, the reader is dropped straight into Simon's world, standing in the rain at the side of the road, sharing his thoughts and limited memories, without preamble or explanation, and left to work things out for themselves. At first it seems like Simon may be the only one suffering from this weird memory-loss but gradually it becomes apparent that everyone does; unless a memory can be imprinted on an object, once out of sight even things as dear as home and family are soon forgotten - so a story that might be akin to Fifty First Dates or Before I Go To Sleep, quickly changes and becomes something darker. My immediate assumption was that everyone was suffering from some form of Alzheimer's-style epidemic, then when Simon encountered the noise and bustle of London, I wondered if memories were being overwhelmed by all the noise in the way that the constant chatter of social media today dulls us in our interactions with our surroundings, even the people we're actually sitting with. As the story progressed, both of these theories were proved wrong but the Chimes remained as an organised, centrally-controlled form of brain-washing.

The world of the Chimes is a wonderfully strange one, yet believable due to the 'thinking through' of the author. World-building alone, though, isn't enough to make a compelling story, so the author has built in a mystery, part of which the reader is privy to even though Simon has forgotten, and a slightly 'thriller' aspect to the plot.
Being told in first person by someone with no knowledge of what has gone before gives a shifting fluid feel to reality in which everything is observed as if for the first time, and deftly captures how it must feel to be in this predicament.

The main characters are young, teenaged or thereabouts, so I'm not sure whether I'd class it as an adult book perfectly suitable for teens with a desire for something a little unusual, or as YA that adults would want to read.

Longlisted for Booker Prize 2015
Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher -  Sceptre
Genre - dystopian,

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