Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chime by Franny Billingsley

I was left with one word when I finished Chime: Brilliant.

The hard part about reviewing Franny Billingsley’s excellent tale is to explain exactly why it gave me that feeling without totally spoiling it for any prospective reader.

It’s a very hard book to classify, and also to market. Given where my wife found the book (the YA section) it fits into the ever broadening field of YA literature. The best classification I can hang on it is YA Gothic Romance. That however doesn’t really do the book justice. Although it’s marketed as a YA book I can’t see too many YA readers really warming towards it. I had the feeling a number of times throughout the book that had I read it as a teen I wouldn’t have liked it, but as a fairly widely read adult I had a greater appreciation of the skill required to write a story like Chime.

It’s told in first person most of the time, although it does occasionally switch perspective for brief periods. It’s the story of Briony, a sheltered young woman who believes she is a witch, caused the death of her beloved stepmother, is the reason her twin sister is damaged, and therefore should be hung. Meeting and befriending the young tearaway Eldric, brings Briony out of herself and eventually convinces her that what happened to her stepmother and sister was not her fault and she should not feel responsible for the events or the fates of those women.

The relationship between Eldric and Briony is handled sensitively and skilfully with a great deal of humour and believability. Briony and Eldric’s relationship often made me recall that of Laurie and Jo in Little Women. The setting is truly fascinating. It’s hard to pin down a time, but the technology and fashion mentioned suggest that it’s early 20th century. Location is another one. The town of London is described as being not all that far away, so it’s somewhere in England, but the swampy setting kept making me think of Louisiana. Briony’s belief that she sees magical creatures and events that no one else can made me think of Jo Walton’s Among Others. The heroine of that book was not dissimilar to Briony and she also saw things and had beliefs that were left deliberately ambiguous. Eldric was also reminiscent in some ways of Among Others' ‘romantic lead’.

It was an entrancing book, full of glorious dreamy imagery. It was something you savoured as you read. Billingsley’s prose and sumptuous way of describing things combined with Briony’s somewhat unique, quirky and highly amusing way of viewing her world and the people around her were a joy to encounter.

Chime is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I urge everyone to find it and lose themselves in this dream of a novel.       


  1. I thoroughly loved this book, for something I picked up on a whim while browsing, it's going onto the keeper-shelf.

    I was reminded quite a bit of Jo Walton's "Among Others" with that you don't know if the magic is real or the protagonist's way of dealing with things that have happened in their lives.

    It's hard to recommend this book to people without giving away the entire plot - I just end up flailing my hands round and saying that you havce to read it!

  2. It was a great book, so glad I read it, but yes it's hard to explain why it's so good.

  3. And that's why I was pushing you to read it when i finished, I knew that you would appreciate the writing and whole concept, especialyl when you also enjoyed Among Others (which I recall you were also a bit doubtful over before starting it).

    *more incoherent rambling and waving of hands in the air*