The language of music, Holly Morton
The Chimes – Anna Smaill’s debut novel — is a music lover’s dream: a dystopian world where the written word is all but abolished and music is the sole form of communication. Memories can only be remembered through objects, and memories of the past, before Allbreaking, are buried deep. The people are controlled by the Carillon, the ultimate instrument made of palladium – the Pale Lady.
Chimes is always different, and even after the thousands of times, I couldn’t venture to say what it’s like … It’s not painful exactly, but nor is it without pain. I’ve seen men crying, certainly. But who’s to say what it is they’re crying for? It is so strong that one by one we crouch. Our foreheads in our knees, our skulls open to the sky.
The novel’s central protagonist, Simon Wythern, begins as a confused, almost naïve boy who travels to London with a message – a melody – to lead him on a mission on behalf of his late mother. He is waylaid by the Five Rover Pact, a group who prospect for palladium to sell to the all-powerful Order. He falls in with them and there Simon meets Lucien, their blind leader with a gift for hearing, and together they seek to complete the quest left to Simon. While he may not be an immediately lovable character, as the reader learns more of his story though his objectmemories, it is possible to better understand Simon’s situation, and in turn his actions.
Lucien, on the other hand, is shown to be worthy of his role as leader of the Five Rover Pact as he sings to generate hope, and as a substitute for the pact’s bodymemory. Lucien’s voice directs his peers through the maze below the streets in a search for the Pale Lady, and his voice is their means of making it safely back home as well. Without Lucien to guide them, the pact would become memoryloss. Lucien is magnetically intriguing and, consequently, is able to capture the reader’s attention more swiftly than Simon; though, as Simon holds the first-person narrative, the audience is left in the dark about some aspects of Lucien’s character throughout.
I found the idea of bodymemory versus objectmemory to be a fascinating concept; that a person can hold significant memories in items related to that memory, but that in comparison to bodymemory, the things that you repeat so often they become ingrained in your identity, objectmemory is fleeting. The possibility of losing your objectmemory in the world of The Chimes is a sobering thought, and it is one that plagues the mind of Simon throughout the narrative.
However, as much as I enjoyed the concept of a musically immersed society, I struggled with the altered vocabulary; substituting fast and slow for presto and lento, and using other Italian musical terms in place of some of the adjectives. I felt that while this choice of words exemplifies the novel’s social setting, readers with little to no knowledge of music theory may be confused by this, which would diminish the effectiveness of the story. Smaill’s use of canonical hours (Matins, None, Sext and Vespers) for Allsong and Onestory makes for a thought-provoking parallel between the traditions of organised religion and the Carillon, protected and maintained by The Order.
Smaill’s ability to weave together music and language in The Chimes creates a spectacular image of the world her characters live in. Their world is shaped by music and therefore it seems right that Smaill uses musical vernacular to construct a vibrant London marketplace, where “…music spills from the living quarters above shops, spins up from groups of musicians standing in door frames.” Smaill’s rich imagery grows a world up in front of the reader with every sentence; breathing life into her characters with each word. The Chimes is a worthy read for all, musical and non-musical alike, and the novel’s cathartic climax will leave many a reader satisfied by the final page.
Editor’s note: The way the review uses these made-up words from the novel shows how powerfully that world has been created, while giving the reader of the review a taste of what reading the novel must be like, meeting these concepts and having to figure out what they mean. They experience for themselves an effect that the reviewer describes as both confusion and spectacle.
Editor’s note: Close
Holly Morton is year 13 at Otumoetai College, Tauranga.
February, 2016 jane Scroll down to see reviews submitted by YA readers: The Chimes