‘If you’re the kind of person who gets off on a fantastically formed sentence or two, then there will be much here to please you’ – The Chimes by Anna Smail
Simon arrives in London with no memories but those he carries in a bag. He has no idea how he travelled, or why he is there. Soon, he is taken in by The Pact, a group of young and shoddily dressed boys and girls who seem to have as little memory as him. All they have to guide them are the rituals encapsulated by The Chimes, and instrument that guides this future world and prevents all who inhabit it from forming new memories. In the world of The Chimes, the past is a mystery and a crime and every day is the same.
This indefinable pact is led by Lucien. Within weeks of Simon’s arrival, Lucien notices that there is something different about him. Unlike the others who willingly accept the power of The Chimes, Simon questions the flashes of a previous life that enter his brain, unwilling and unable to accept them as mere dreams. Lucien has found a fellow memory maker.
He reveals the truth about The Chimes to Simon, training him to accept all his memories as real and hold onto them. Once he is ready, the two of them set off on a quest. Their goal is to reveal what they know to the masses and put an end to the music that maintains a world of a controlled, robotic human race.
This is a dark, dystopic novel that will appeal particularly to writers and readers. Not only is memory banished, but the writing down of words has become a thing of the past. The novel looks at the linkage between memory and writing and posits the state of a world without them. And it is beautifully written. Smaill has previously published a book of poetry, and that shows in the meticulous and sometimes mesmerising prose. If books were judged purely on how pretty their sentences are, this one would be up with the very best. But they aren’t.
And unfortunately, a few things let it down. It’s hard to really get involved until around halfway through. Scenes seem to be almost repeated as Smaill establishes this bizarre world, and the disorienting sense the characters feel because of their lack of memory seeps into the reader’s experience. This lessens once Lucien and Simon set off on their quest, but then we are met with a series of obstacles that are overcome with far too much ease. Every time something seems like it might cause them problems, something happens on the next page that ends that concern. For such a huge and important task, they glide throughout a little too easily. This is never more apparent than in the closing section. Things work out to well for the novel to ever really have us on edge.
Any Cop?: Smaill is one to watch, there’s no doubt about that. Her sentences are perfect at times, and the basis of a fantastic story exists here. It just never really does enough to grab and enthral the reader. But if you’re the kind of person who gets off on a fantastically formed sentence or two, then there will be much here to please you.
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- January 14, 2016 / 9:00 am