The Chimes by Anna Smaill (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton)
The first thing to say about this stunning story is that it’s a classic crossover novel, ie. it can be enjoyed by both adults and older teenagers. It’s a debut novel by the author, whose previous publication is a book of poetry. However when you read that she also has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (Wellington) you begin to understand why readers and reviewers are full of praise for this unusual and challenging book.
The basic tenets of the futuristic, dystopian London in which the story is set are these: the written word has been forbidden and forgotten; personal memory has also been destroyed so that the past is a mystery to most people; and both memory and the written word have been replaced by music. Music is used for communication, directions, identification, social interaction and societal control.
The story is challenging because the reader initially has little idea how this society operates – when we read on the first page about the main character (a teenage boy called Simon) standing by the side of the road we share his bewilderment and fear because none of us has any idea what is going on. Simon is eventually given a ride to London where he joins a gang who make a living by scavenging a precious metal called palladium.
From this point the story unrolls both backwards and forwards so we eventually understand why Simon’s abilities are so special, and what has to happen to mend this broken society. It’s not an easy read but once you relax and put yourself in the author’s hands you appreciate the poetic delicacy of the style and the originality of the story concept. Recommended for older secondary students, especially those with an interest in writing.
PS. The Chimes is currently longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
ISBN 978 1 444 794533 $34.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman