Before Briony’s stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family’s hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it’s become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.
Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He’s as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she’s extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn’t know.
I long deliberated about whether to review this or not. Sometimes you read something that resonates with you to such a degree, with such intensity that it feels as though you could never do it justice by reviewing it. That it just may be impossible to articulate the reasons why you loved this book and why other people should definitely try it out. But since I like doing impossible things, I am going to try. Just be warned though: No matter how lavishly I praise this book, it deserves a lot more.
It is a novel’s prose that attracts me. The plot and the characterization, while important in their own rights, become secondary when I decide how much I like a novel. To date, there have been only two other novels that I have loved simply for the gorgeousness of their prose. They are The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty. Chime finds itself a niche on my shelf of awesome.
Chime creates an unearthly world, a land dominated by marshes and superstitious people. The effect is surreal as though the reader has submerged herself in a world that is determined to surprise her by its strangeness and enthrall her with its beauty. The protagonist, Briony, is by far one of the strangest, and all the more compelling for it, narrator I have had the fortune to come across. She is an unreliable narrator and her narration is less of a storytelling and more as though the readers were the blank pages of her journal on which she is scribbling her experiences, thoughts and emotions. She is intricately detailed and her individuality is delineated even despite the fact that she has a twin sister.
“I felt as though I were a music box in want of winding. Yes, as though I were a music box and the tune were my life, playing more and more slowly with every passing day. Finally, not even I could recognize it. The notes were stretched too far apart. They were no longer notes, they were plinks. I wound down to a plink.”
All the characters in the novel, no matter what their importance to the greater plot, are etched out and given worth. From the little boy that Briony considers a friend to the unfortunate man murdered in the marsh, they are all superbly characterized.
The plot comes to life slowly. The story does not flow from point A to B, oh no, it blooms like flowers in a field. First you may notice a patch of daisies on one side and then later on dandelions in the center. And then at the end, suddenly, you have a field full of flowers and it is much like an epiphany you weren’t certain you were going to have. It’s a beautiful thing.
This book contains one of the most delicious kissing scenes ever. I adore the love interest. I can’t say much more than that. Honestly. Read it for the kiss scene alone.
And finally, let me talk about the prose. Billingsley plays unabashedly with language here. She creates words, she repeats them and it is a testament to her boldness that her experimenting pays off.
“If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. I believe I am loveable. How can something as fragile as a word build a whole world?”|
“Eldric turned away from the mirror, holding out his hand. In the cup of his hand lay his fidget of paper clips. But the fidget had blossomed into a crown. An allover-filigree crown, with a twisty spire marking the front.
I stared at it for some moments. “It’s for you,” said Eldric. “If you want it.”
“I’m seventeen,” I said. “I haven’t played at princess for years.”
“Does that matter ?” Eldric set it on my head. It was almost weightless, a true crown for the steam age.|
In a proper story, antagonistic sparks would fly between Eldric and me, sparks that would sweeten the inevitable kiss on page 324. But life doesn’t work that way. I didn’t hate Eldric, which, for me, is about as good as things get.” |
“Father’s silence is not merely the absence of sound. It’s a creature with a life of its own. It chokes you. It pinches you small as a grain of rice. It twists in your gut like a worm.
Silence clawed at my throat. It left a taste of burnt matches.”
These are just of the delectable gems in this novel. So, if I haven’t convinced you let, let those words do the job. Give it a chance. Even if you don’t go in for eccentric protagonists, read this book. I guarantee you won’t regret it.