Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley
Briony Larkin is wicked. She’s had to live all 17 years of her life with the knowledge that she was responsible for her identical twin sister Rose’s brain defect and her Stepmother’s death. That’s because Briony is a witch: she can see the Old Ones, the magical creatures that live in and near the swamp, and if anyone in the Swampsea finds out that she’s a witch, then she will be hanged.
When Eldric arrives in the Swampsea, he is like a breath of fresh air in Briony’s life. Eldric makes her come alive in ways she didn’t even know she could anymore. But witches don’t love, and witches don’t cry, and if Eldric doesn’t watch out, Briony’s going to be the cause of his death.
CHIME has received countless starred reviews and a nearly equal array of praise and protestation from bloggers. Suffice it to say that I went into this book with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. A book couldn’t possibly live up to all that praise, I thought. At best, I thought, I will like this book, but I won’t love it.
But oh, I loved it. Oh, how I did. CHIME completely won me over, and I am in nonstop raptures about its genius. Seriously. It might be a good thing you are not in my vicinity right now. Otherwise I’d be floating and spinning in circles around you in my enrapturement.
When I say that CHIME won me over, it really did have to win me over. The first 150 or so pages were craAaAaAaAazy! I was really confused, because the book throws us right in the middle of Briony’s narration, and she’s not exactly the most objective of narrators. She is a great example of a successful unreliable narrator, because everything she narrates is colored by her own charged perception of things.
Briony is so vehement in her self-hatred that she very nearly makes us hate her as well. A person who spends her whole life thinking that she’s wicked and hating herself will obviously have a great deal of trouble thinking otherwise. And yet Briony also has a wicked sense of humor—and by “wicked,” I mean in the best way possible. She is like a magical, irresistible combination of Anne Shirley’s whimsy and—well, I can’t think of who her wit is like, but yeah, she’s a combination of wit and whimsy, which makes her completely and utterly cool.
Briony’s narration may be confusing at first, but if you give yourself a solid chunk of time to read CHIME, by page 200 you will be so engrossed in these characters’ stories that you will not want to put this book down. Perhaps most incredible is how well we come to know and love supporting characters such as Eldric and Rose through Briony’s voice. Eldric, the boy-man with an irrepressible love of kind-hearted playing. Rose, brain-damaged but still beautifully artistic, and all the more precious for her unique and childlike take on the world. CHIME celebrates childhood and play, and suggests that the best kind of love comes from these nearly magical moments of youthfulness.
There is so much more I could say about CHIME, and so much more within this book that deserves to be talked about. But I could go on and on for pages and pages, and nothing would compare to reading this book yourself, to see if it is, too, your brand of magic. I wasn’t expecting to love CHIME, but now it’s one of my favorite books of all time, an impressive accomplishment of writing magic. Now excuse me, while I go and reread it.
Cover discussion: This is one of my favorite covers of the year. That girl IS Briony, with her blond hair, pitch-black eyes, and angelic looks. It's so alluring and mysterious and understated sexy. I hope it draws you in as well.
Penguin / March 17, 2011 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $17.99
Review copy received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program.