Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Chime, by Frances Billingsley

"Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it." - Christopher Morely

I am such a hypocrite.

First, the summary off of Shelfari:
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.
There is a serious discrepancy of opinion on Chime in my book club, and having been thinking about it off and on since the last meeting, I thought I'd write a post supporting my position.

The main objection to the quality of the book is that it is exceedingly verbose. I don't have a copy, so I can't quote the most-often-used example, but take my word for it. That particular example is some of Eldric's dialogue, so I do not have an excuse for it. However, for some of the rest, I do.

There are several sections of narration self-acknowledged to be in the style of The House That Jack Built
"This is the girl called Briony. This is the girl called Briony who lived in a swamp that was being drained. This is the girl called Briony who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the BoggyMan. This is the girl called Briony who lived in a swamp that was being drained, which angered the BoggyMan, who sent the swamp cough."
And so on for another three quarters of a page. Now I listened to the audio book, which is another form of storytelling so perhaps this sort of writing was not as annoying read aloud as it might be when written out. (I was kind of annoyed when looking the passage up on Google Books so I could quote it to you.)

That being said, since it's only used a few times, this style matches Briony's character. She makes references to the writing of novels repeatedly throughout the book, and has so many secrets that she's used to thinking to herself for long stretches of time. When in dialogue, such verbosity is not good. But when in narration, it's more excusable. (However, I'd be interested to see my reaction to the written version.)

Moving on to the things I loved about it.

Chime did an amazing job of what in the world of fiction is called "plants and payoffs." I was listening to this (while eating pizza and playing Diablo 2 back when my sisters were both out of town) in the afternoons while working on another editing swipe at my first novel in the mornings, and when I got to the end of Chime, I was practically salivating with jealousy of how well Frances Billingsley made it all come together. Then again, I was also reaching the end of a 13 hour car trip when I finished, so perhaps the happiness was for another reason altogether. With regards to that, I wish I had written this book.

Then there is Briony herself, who was great. She claims to hate herself and the world...yet the reader doesn't. She's one of the most unreliable narrators I have encountered, but it works so well. I knew something was up from the first few minutes of the audio book, and I knew which sections of her life smelled fishy, but I had no inkling as to the nature of the truth she was covering up. 

Briony's unreliability also allows there to be romance without it being the ridiculously cheesy and over-blown romance that we love to mock. It's romance about friendship rather than friendship about romance, if that makes sense. Again, something I wish I had written (even if I didn't always like Eldric himself).

So I recommend the audio book, and the textual version as well if you can put up with the style. It's an extremely well-crafted story, even if the quality of the actual writing through which it is told is subject to doubt.


  1. Ok, see, let's set the writing aside for a second.

    The main character has a sister with special needs.

    I have a sister with special needs. And the way that the relationship between the sisters is not realistic at all.

    If Briony feels guilty then she should act guilty, not annoyed.

    Also, the way that the sister was written was just terrible. It felt fake. It felt fake because the writing was terrible. I'm sorry but it was. It was overwritten and poorly written. I understand that it was an unreliable narrator but it was just poorly written. I understand that the character has a voice, but it was poorly written.

    It was just, guess, poorly written.

  2. As for the relationship between Briony and Rose, this is in contrast to the protagonist of All These Things I've Done, who is incredibly condescending to her special-needs brother who doesn't deserve it at all.

  3. (Having just gotten back from dinner and therefore having thought about your comments more...)

    Also, I don't believe she does feel guilty. She thinks she _should_ feel guilty, yet she can't bring herself to actually do it.


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