Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dystopian Debut

The Chimes, Anna Smaill
Want a review copy, Ange?  A debut dystopian novel by a New Zealand author about music and memory?
Yes, I do.

  • Brava!  This is a literary debut?!  Really? (Smaill's previously published poems)
  • The overall concept, if I were to mini-market, is wondrous and fantastic:  Most people are without long-term memory; music is employed by those hoping they might cling to memories -- both for nostalgia and process; objects are bestowed with memory by touch.  This idea, alone, made it something I am pleased I read, and something I think true dystopian fans should read.
  • I find the idea of weaving musical language throughout a fictional novel very fitting, given the novel's premise.  I think it is unfortunate that this felt overdone in some sections. Althooooough...the portions where it arguably was used overmuch were within the "murky times" for the protag, so one might argue it mirrors the groundhog-dayness of a human life without memory.  This seriously diminishes the awkwardness of overuse. 
  • The novel has a poetic, lyrical, disjointed start and is scant on details.  I don't think this is oversight, I think it is deliberate.  But it means Smaill's one of those.  She wants you to work for it a little, at least half-concentrate and persevere; form mirrors content.  It's pretty clever.  I imagine this combination would lose a lot of readers presto though, for being so consciously unusual and ungraspable. I hung in there, because I believe in a pay-off. 
  • There is a pay-off. 
  • The details and mechanics of the world were initially hard to buy into, but the originality and growing strength of the narrative enticed me to suspend away and get my Imagine on.  At times I cringed in fear that the book was only a desperate bid for an author to marry their two loves (music and writing), and that it wasn't going to be enough.  But I kept reading.  There was enough intrigue, and a happy marriage was made and a story was told...even if it was foreseeable.
  • I didn't know or care for the narrator as well as I'd like (it is told in first person), but I certainly didn't dislike him.
  • I enjoyed reading dialogue reminiscent of days gone by -- which made the sudden appearance of an early f-cuss more abrupt and disappointing.  There are only a handful of real swear words, so that was nice.
  • There is some intimacy, but no real sensuality, and there are reports of violent acts, post-.  I wouldn't recommend the book to younger YA readers, but I think there is enough thoughtful restraint here to make it great for around 14+? (Anyone else's thoughts?)
  • Merciless and rough comparison? 1984 plus The Giver plus a dash of something extra I cannot name else it would spoil it too much for you.  But if you've read it, I would love to share my opinion on a third comparative ingredient.
  • Overall: I found The Chimes pretty strong.  It isn't paced ideally for my taste, but it does what it does well and is (how fitting again!) memorable.
Sound like something for you?  This is now out in bookstores, go grab it!

Review copy received from Hachette.

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