Briony knows she is a witch. She knows that she is guilty of hurting her beloved stepmother. She also knows that, now her stepmother is dead, she must look after her beautiful but complicated twin sister, Rose. Then the energetic, electric, golden-haired Eldric arrives in her home town of Swampsea, and everything that Briony thinks she knows about herself and her life is turned magically, dizzyingly, upside down.
I was supposed to review Chime weeks ago. But I couldn't. I didn't have the words. Honestly, I have not read a book as wonderfully strange and unique as Chime for the longest time. I had too many images in my head and too many thoughts. I couldn't even express myself on twitter coherently.
I'm attempting a review now, so please bear with me. Or ignore this review and just go and buy a copy. You won't regret it.
Briony's voice is deeply unique and wistful and strange and peculiar. We meet her as she is locked in jail for witchcraft, awaiting the trial and her execution. We very soon come to realise that Briony's life before being accused of witchcraft is as different and unique as anything we may have come across before.
The village she lives in is near the swamp. Briony has been warned to stay away from the swamp and she's made promises to do so. In the past she was a wicked wolfgirl running wild through the swamp, listening to the voices in the air around her. She caused the waters to rise, for the swamp sickness to come, for the fire to happen in the library, for her Stepmother to die. She's also the cause of her sister, Rose's, unfortunate condition.
Briony holds up a facade to the world around her. She has given up her life and her wild ways to take care of Rose. She hates herself for Rose's condition and for the murder of her Stepmother. But no one knows how her (Stephmother's) death had truly happened. Only Briony knows and she's scared. She is living a wicked lie. And her Stepmother always knew she was a wicked girl.
Into Rose and Briony's life comes a young man, a boy-man called Eldric. Eldric is a wonderful character and he is both charmed and intrigued by both Rose and Briony. Rose treats Eldric with disdain and shies away from him, but Briony is deeply intrigued, although she knows she must not be. She is wicked and awful, after all. But Briony and Eldric hit it off in a fantastic way. They become great friends and start their own Bad Boy / Bad Girl club. They make up Latin words and do crazy things. Eldric teacher her how to box. There is much flailing about and much laughter. The romance between Briony and Eldric is so great as it develops slowly with a great many laughs and a great many random adventures. I love that Eldric remains a true enigma to Briony. I love that it wasn't an instant romance. I love that she was wary of him, circling him, like a real wolfgirl. I also love that Eldric understands Rose. I enjoyed the fact that they had a rapport and that really endeared him to me even more. Rose's character is seemingly the least complicated one - she is the most wistful character to me, too. Her odd utterings and wilful behaviour is that of a much younger child. That the girls are twins must make this even stranger still as Briony is the one turning into a young woman, and Rose is too, whilst remaining mentally a child. But then, as writers are often fond of doing, Rose's character is both childish as well as older than her years.
When Rose falls ill with the dreaded Swamp Cough and although Briony's now dead Stepmother had warned her to stay away from the Muggy Mun, Briony knows she has no choice. She has to turn to this creature of darkness for help. And of course, we the readers think: what is this girl on about? A Muggy Mun? Dark Ones? Swamp things? Brownies? And then slowly but surely we realise that all these creatures are in fact very real. Or are they?
We are never quite sure about Briony's mental state. She seems playful, highly strung, very intelligent but she is also an incredibly unreliable narrator. And as the entire book is written from her perspective, it is hard work to distinguish fact from fiction or rather, what Briony sees as fact and fiction. And there were times when I did wonder if she was completely and utterly crazy. Or just pretending to be.
I've made a mess of this review. So I will defer to my friends Ana and Thea over at the Booksmugglers who did a far far better job than me reviewing this truly excellent and superb book. I mean, Ana gave it a nine. A nine! Also, this is a great interview with the author over at The Enchanted Ink Pot (what a great blog name!)
I know that as an aspiring writer, when agents and publishers talk about voice, and that they'll know it when they see it, they mean Franny Billingsley and this book. I love it with all my readerly writerly heart. I know some people may not get Briony's oddness but I suspect that if you give it a chance, you will and it will lift you up and carry you away away. It took me ages to get my head out of the story afterwards and pick up something else. The voice stays with you for a long time, as does the story. It's definitely going into one of my Top 12 for 2011.
Give it a try. It'll surprise you. Find Franny Billingsley website here.
I have two copies of Chime to give away to two lucky UK winners. I'll let the competition run until Tuesday 10th May. In order to be in it to win it, leave a comment below about some of your favourite writers or books. They don't have to be new / modern writers. We are always keen to find new good books to read on MFB.