by Anna Smaill
I read many wonderful books but rarely anything so singular, poetic, exceptional, as utterly unique as The Chimes.
On the surface, this is yet another post-apocalyptic, dystopian story of life amidst the horrors of a state ruled by a remote elite – in this case, a quasi-religious order of absolutist purity, where words are nothing and music is all. The Order exert control by stealing memory, effectively crippling all dissent, keeping the population cowed and bovine, “nameless wandering ones… clustered for comfort… like sheep on the public green: memorylost”. The Ravensguild, a loose gathering of dissenters able to retain memories, keep memory for others and pass them on, have been all but wiped out. Those who remain live isolated, in terror of discovery.
This is an absorbing and enthralling story lifted beyond mere page-turnery by enchanting, lyrical writing of unusual breadth and depth of imagination. Engaging characters speak a curious new language to fit this strange world ruled by music. People travel in beats, smell in song, move lento or alto –
“The first street I pass carries the waft and song of peanuts cooked in caramel… I pass bakers singing yeasted bread… the homely note of one tune weaves its way out of the rest… a solo voice singing, though it’s not so much a tune so much as a quick underbreath patter to match the rhythm of boiling water and hissing water.” It’s clever, charming stuff, but never clumsy, difficult or unreadable. It does not get in the way of the story. It’s a little challenging at first, but once you adapt to its rhythms and pace, the language soon makes perfect sense and what emerges is a cracking tale told with a softly musical, poetic touch. Anna Smaill’s prose sings on the page and makes the grim, fallen world she imagines almost beautiful.
I feel the cover needs a mention too: so pure and stark with a centre-piece of vivid colour and detail. I couldn’t stop looking at it.
Rarely do books hold quite such a rich and profound depth of wonders as this. This is the best book I’ve read this year by miles. If there’s a better book to come, I can’t wait to read it.