The Chimes’ main protagonist above everyone else is London itself. Albeit reimagined, there is a resiliently strong presence of place in this novel, which is where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed, and the world is considered in musical terms.
Individualism and discord is not acceptable in this London, harmony and collectivism is the status quo and the London that is sought after. Memories are blasphemous and perceived to be disruptive and irrelevant in this dystopian world and for Simon Wythern, a young lad who arrives in the city to source out the truth about his parents and what happened, memories are all that he can hold onto. You see where this is going right?
A stunning literary debut by Anna Smaill, The Chimes is quite clearly written by someone who plays music, with a poetic skill for conjouring rather stark imagery. The consistently wondrous prose is combined with a unique and imaginative dystopia that gives you enough to want to read on.
With a description of London so vividly set in its past, this mysterious dystopian London is not as you would expect. Combining various genres of fiction, Anna Smaill expertly grounds in the city, as you read, smell and breathe it with her words. However in this world, the written word has actually been destoryed. The only thing of concern in this city is The Chimes, an enormously insidious musical instrument that plays at vespers every evening a music so ear-battering and destructive that it eradicates memory.
Often it is easy to get lost in Smaill’s words, lucid and dreamlike at times. But it doesn’t take too long to clamber back into the synopsis, as we get to know more about the young outlaws that Simon finds himself involved with. Enigmatic Lucien and self-harming Clare are key to the plot, and the development of Simon. They live by the Thames and locate mettle to barter for food.
The story turns with the relationship that develops between Simon and Lucien, and the totalitarian world in which they exist suddenly becomes more interesting. Characters such as Martha and Sonja add to the latter part of the novel, and make it interesting, but the world by the river felt more visceral in this harmonious city. Overall, Smaill’s writing is worth delving in for, and the world is unique. The characters are flawed and London magical.
The Chimes is out now, published by Sceptre