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2015 Man Booker Longlist: The Chimes Anna Smaill


With the shortlist being announced on the 15th, we are hoping to pick up the pace and finish all the longlist books in the next week. Regular posts will be delayed so we can try to finish up our longlist reviews and make our predictions. Next up in our 2015 longlist travels is another book we both read: Anna Smaill’s The Chimes. Find out if it makes our shortlist.

The Chimes Anna Small
Published: 2015
Reviewed by Book Worm & Jen
Find it/buy it here: The Chimes

Synopsis (from Goodreads): The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.

In the absence of both memory and writing is music.

In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

Book Worm’s Review:
4.5 Stars
The Chimes is a dystopian story set in a future London where music controls everything. The Chimes is the daily music from the governing body that informs citizens that they are all one and part of the melody. But the Chimes also has a sinister side — it steals memories leaving people with no backstory or history. To be able to function as a society people have “body memory” that allows their bodies to remember how to perform their daily functions and occupations. They can also store particularly precious memories in objects but nothing to give them a cohesive background.

Everything changes when Simon enters the picture. Simon is unique in that he is able to retain his memories. When he meets up with another gifted young man, Lucien, together they discover the truth behind the Chimes and set out to try and change things.

The story is interesting in that all communication is through music. Sign language can be used, but it is in the form of musical scales. Writing has been forbidden and is no longer understood. To find their way to and from places, the characters sing descriptions. They also sing or use music to define who they are and where they belong. Normal descriptive words are replaced with musical ones like ‘lento’ and ‘presto’ and music is used to create all the imagery — a complex thing to achieve but one that works really well and transforms London into an unknown city.

I didn’t give this top marks for originality as the story and use of noise and silence reminded me of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. While they are completely different stories, they had the same kind of feel. Also, the use of a medium other than verbal language reminded me of Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey, where colour is with the same kind of premise.

There was only really one character, Simon and while he showed some development, this occurred more through remembering than by new actions — hence my 4/5 rating for character development.

The writing is solid and the use of musical language added another layer to the narrative. However other longlist books used language in a more impressive way hence 4 points not 5 for writing style.

Here are some of my favourite quotes;

“I put the memories together again and again in their different patterns and try to understand which is the correct way. Then at last I see that there isnt one. I see that if I am lucky and do it right, the story will not ever end and come together in one final meaning. Because there is not yet any end”

“But then I see. Or rather I hear. The hair is a stave. The beads are musical notes. The melody is writ upon her, and the melody is her death”

“I am dazed with food. I smile at her. It is a strange question really. A question from a world where people have time and leisure and space between themselves, space to sort and choose. I didn’t choose Lucien, I think. Lucien was there always. His voice speaking out of the darkness”

Here are my ratings for this book:
Available in English 1/1
Published in the UK 1/1
Originality 7/8
Character Complexity 4/5
Writing Quality 4/5
Total 17/20

I will say that I enjoyed this book so much that I finished it in one day. I would highly recommend it to others. This would make my Booker shortlist.

Jen’s Review:
4 stars
Since Book Worm already summarized the book, I will refrain from going over the plot line. If it sounds confusing, it’s because it was rather confusing and also difficult to describe. You really have to read it for yourself to figure out the plot.

Like Book Worm, I really enjoyed this book and breezed through it two days. I personally found it to be very different from Ness’ Knife of Letting Go although, in many ways, this novel does remind me of a complex young adult novel (it definitely has a YA feel). The use of music as language was fascinating and it should come as no surprise that Smaill has training as a violinist. The world she created was so entirely foreign to me (but very vividly presented) that I found the book’s originality to be its true strength.

I agree with Book Worm with regard to character complexity because I never really had a good sense of the characters and I felt like the novel was more focused on building the world than it was on building complex characters.

Finally, I really enjoyed her writing style. While the writing may not have been quite as complex as other longlist books, I found it lyrical, beautiful, and poetic.

Here are my ratings for this book:
Available in English 1/1
Published in the UK 1/1
Originality 8/8
Character Complexity 3/5
Writing Quality 4.5/5
Total 17.5/20

So our collective rating for this book is 17.25

Like Book Worm, I do recommend this book and it would make my shortlist based on originality and quality of writing. Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Chimes

Here are our rankings to date:

  1. Little Life: (based on Jen’s rating) & The Illuminations (based on Book Worm’s Rating): 18/20
  2. The Chimes by Anna Smaill 17.25 (average rating Jen & Book Worm)
  3. The Fishermen (based on Jen’s rating): 16/20
  4. Lila: 15/20 (based on book worm’s rating)
  5. A Spool of Blue Thread: 14/20 (based on book worm’s rating)
  6. The Green Road (joint rating) & Satin Island (book worm’s rating): 13/20

So, The Green Road and Satin Island won’t make the list according to our rankings. Will anyone else get bumped out in the next week? We have at least two more reviews coming up in the next few days. Stay tuned for our final predictions September 14.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jo #

    I love this book! My favourite of the long list that I’ve read so far (admittedly I’ve only read three so far though!)

    Liked by 1 person

    September 9, 2015

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  1. 2015 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Predictions | The Reader's Room
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