The Chimes

Author(s): Anna Smaill

Fiction - Contemporary

"A HIGHLY ORIGINAL DYSTOPIAN MASTERPIECE" --Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winning author of March "FOR ALL THE POETRY AND LYRICISM, THE CHIMES IS A SOLID SUSPENSEFUL ADVENTURE STORY AT HEART" --NPR Books A mind-expanding literary debut composed of memory, music and imagination. A boy stands on the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain. No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment. No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden. No parents--just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them. The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air. Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony. But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, and sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon's past. A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthrall and inspire.

I am exactly half way through this fascinating, beautifully written book. It is set generations after some aural apocalypse, when order and harmony is maintained by the Carillon, a vastly powerful musical instrument which deprives the people of narrative memory, judgement and story. Identity is maintained (for all but the unfortunate memorylost) by each person’s collection of objectmemories (objects selected to recapture experiences of crucial moments for some, and a mere comfort for others), and habitual actions are given functional security by the strong but short-term bodymemory. There is no time other than musical time. The people perceive and describe their world in musical terms, and find their way about by tunes, songs and harmonies (“Words are not to be trusted. Music holds the meaning.”). Simon comes to London and falls in with a ‘pact’ who seek the conspicuously silent lumps of the Pale Lady (palladium) in the river and in the Under (tunnels beneath London), which they sell indirectly to the Order, who control the Citadel from which the Carillon (made of palladium) calls forth the Onestory at Matins and the memory-obliterating Chimes at Vespers. Secretly coached by blind Lucien, the leader of his pact, Simon begins to remember first his arrival in London, then the death of his mother, who had the ability to subversively keep and read the memories of others in their village, and begins to realise he has come to London with some sort of purpose. Where I am up to, Lucien is leading Simon on a long revelatory journey in the Under, which I won’t say anything about other than that it has the time-stopping beauty and terror of a scene in a film by Tarkovsky, and I can’t wait to finish writing these reviews and get back to reading. It is very exciting, but not exciting in the normal (plottish) sense. As far as textually possible, the reader’s realisations about this world are won in tandem with Simon’s, and the emergence of narrative from and in spite of the pervasive poetic timelessness make this a highly unusual and thoughtful book. It has some similarities to Russell Hoban’s brilliant Riddley Walker, in which a much-changed post-apocalyptic world is also treated in a language all its own, but this book is in no sense derivative and is remarkable, beautiful and rewarding in its own unique way. - Thomas


I was interested to find that when Anna Smaill was writing this she thought of it as a young adult novel. Her publisher had other ideas, and it was instead marketed as adult fiction. This made a lot of sense to me, having just finished the novel, because, while the first half of the book is quite experimental and beautifully written, the second half felt like tripping down a rabbit hole into YA dystopia. Let me elaborate. The first half is eerie and foggy in the same way the Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel The Buried Giant is. It isn’t clear what is happening, and the characters are suffering from chronic memory loss. Smaill’s language in this section is exquisite, and I love the way she weaves musical terminology into the everyday dialect. By the halfway point the plot of the novel is still a mystery, but it sets the scene perfectly and gives the reader a real sense of what it is like to exist in this world. After that though, the pace picks up and we come to understand a bit more of the history behind the Chimes (the elusive force that keeps the masses subservient amnesiacs). I feel that most readers will either like the first section or the second section, but few will love both. Personally I enjoyed the mystery and mastery of the first part, but found the second to be overly rushed, although those who love a good plot will appreciate the completeness of it. - Holly


I've just finished The Chimes and loved it. Reminiscent of Hoban’s Riddley Walker, I was intrigued from the beginning. The first half of the book is completely beguiling – expect to be confused, questioning and seeking, just as the main character, Simon, is. I admire writing that takes you wholeheartedly into a world that you can’t understand, which unfolds as you read, and that allows you to absorb yourself in the texture of the story. Smaill’s writing is both beautifully detailed and restrained, allowing the story to be withheld, rich and beguiling simultaneously. The Chimes tells the story of a world without written language, a world where music, melody, instrument and song are the major means of communication. A world that only has a single story, Onestory, that begins (for most) as it did the day before, and the day before that, with memory erased and the present (not the past or the future) the only form of connection to place and people. On reaching London with a particular purpose in mind (that, not surprisingly, is erased from his memory) Simon is recruited by a small group of ‘pact-runners’ who gather ‘The Lady’ from the tunnels under London. Direction and instruction is detailed and ‘remembered’ by song, and there is a strong bond between the members, who are on the fringe of society. As time moves on, Simon, coached by Lucien (the leader of the pact), realises he has come to London with a particular purpose and a rare dangerous ability. The second part of the novel is far more plot-driven, focusing on the growing relationship between Lucien and Simon, and their journey to the Citadel, the seat of power, and the reasons behind the decision to create a world devoid of word memory. Smaill creates a novel in which we can think about the dynamics of communication, the ability of rhythm (whether our own or that of music) to convey meaning, and the use of communication as power and control. - Stella



   The Chimes is set in a futuristic London, with a populace unable to create linear memories, controlled by a menacing but unseen (but always heard) Order. Simon arrives in the city looking for something, he doesn't know what. He falls in with a gang of scavengers who trawl the Thames and surrounding sewers for "The Lady" which they sell to The Order, little knowing they are contributing to their own enslavement. The Chimes is a book of two halves, the first a soft, foggy story of discovery and forced remembrances, the second a panicked escape and eventual attack on the headquarters of The Order itself. Smaill gives little away and often left me wondering, but that is part of the allure of this astonishing read. - Lucy

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2016 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel

Cleverly orchestrated and poignantly conveyed throughout. Guardian Smaill is a former musician with a book of poetry already to her name. The Chimes has strong echoes of both these influences as we're taken on a strange and lyrical journey through a dystopian England ... The intrinsic links between music and memory suffuse this dreamy narrative ... the idiosyncratic world [that] Smaill has lovingly created using melodic and musical syntax - her narrative style brimming with invention and nuance. The Big Issue The pleasure lies in getting to grips with the rules of this eerie dystopia and the unusual vocabulary Smaill has minted to describe it. Metro Atmospheric, intensely-imagined strangeness Daily Mail SUPERB... intriguing, ambitious and strikingly written. James Kidd, Independent on Sunday Strangely compelling Sainsbury's Magazine To call The Chimes striking is I dare say to underplay what might be the most distinctive debut of the decade. Tor.com A dazzling debut piece of fantasy that marries great writing with compelling narrative. And the world Smaill has invented, where memory has been replaced by music and people cling to objects that link them to their pasts, is brilliantly imagined... a serious book with serious talent behind it. New Zealand Herald Atmospheric, intensely-imagined strangeness Daily Mail The Chimes is a remarkable debut. It's inventive, beautifully written, and completely absorbing. I highly recommend it. Kevin Powers, author of THE YELLOW BIRDS Magical, tender, thought provoking and stunningly imaginative. Lindsay Hawdon, author of JAKOB'S COLOURS The novel is hypnotic, melancholic and requires concentration, but it builds to an incredibly tense and emotionally satisfying climax that rewards all the effort. Elle A genuinely originalnovel that has all the tension of a well-told, gripping thriller, but which is elevated well above the ordinary by its shining, lyrical language. The author has created a believable, consistent and vivid world... Clare Morrall Dystopian fiction but not quite as we know it... Smaill's particular melodious inventiveness makes her story her own. Independent Anna Smail's ambition fiction debut is a strange, compelling tale; full of musical metaphors and striking imagery, it is wildly imaginative and challenging. Choice Magazine An exciting debut, a book full of rhythm, energy and melody... There's no doubt Smaill has created a distinctive and impressive debut, one that dares to create its own music. The List An enthralling read. The Lady lyrical debut Sunday Express This is a story that rivets us from the beginning but, for those wanting more, there are delicious depths that change an excellent story into an equally excellent thought provoking fable. As if that isn't enough, it also convinces us that Anna is a very clever lady. ... hugely compelling ... Oh yes, this is definitely a 'Wow!' book. The Bookbag For a story about music, The Chimes is a triumph on the printed page. SFX Magazine

Anna Smaill was born in Auckland in 1979. A classically trained violinist, she holds an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (Wellington), an MA in English Literature from the University of Auckland and a PhD in contemporary American poetry from University College London. She is the author of one book of poetry (The Violinist in Spring, VUP 2005) and her poems have been published and anthologised in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She has lived and worked in both Tokyo and London, and now lives in New Zealand with her husband, novelist Carl Shuker, and their daughter.

General Fields

  • : 9781444794502
  • : Hodder & Stoughton
  • : Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
  • : 0.208
  • : January 2015
  • : 198mm X 129mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Anna Smaill
  • : Paperback
  • : 1
  • : en
  • : 823/.92
  • : 304