Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

Briony lives with her mentally challenged twin sister and her detached clergyman father in the small town of Swampsea. Her world is full of dichotomies. Progression, in the form of trains, automobiles, and gas lights, stands in sharp contrast to the ancient supernatural beings -the Old Ones and their ilk- that inhabit the Swamp and still hold sway over the villagers. Briony has always been able to see and talk to the Old Ones and she thinks this means she is a witch, a secret that only she and Stepmother knew, since witchcraft is a hanging offense in her village. Not only that, but sometimes her passions and jealousies wreak havoc on those she loves best.

As the book opens, it is several months after her beloved Stepmother's death. Briony believes -because it is what Stepmother helped her to understand- that she is responsible for the many bad things that have happened in her family, including her sister's mental condition and her stepmother's injury and subsequent death. The dreams Briony once had of education and a life of her own are buried under the guilt and self-loathing she feels, as she cares for the sister she feels responsible for. To a certain extent, Briony has withdrawn mentally from the world around her, in order to protect her family from her wickedness. When Eldric -the son of the engineer sent to oversee the draining of the Swamp (in order to advance the railway line)- comes to stay at their house, he befriends her and accepts her for who she is, without any pressure. Little by little Briony's frozen mind begins to accept his friendship.

When the Old Ones' anger erupts at the draining of the Swamp, Briony must strike a deal with the Old Ones to save her sister from becoming their next victim. But saving her sister is going to mean revealing her own wickedness.

Told in first person, past tense, Billingsley's writing style reflects Briony's mind. It is self-deprecating, at turns humorous or serious, jumpy, a bit muddled (because Briony knows things that we, the reader, aren't privy to yet) and a bit like actually being inside her head, listening to her stream-of-consciousness thought. Sometimes this got a little frustrating and sometimes I had to go back and re-read the passage because I thought I'd missed something. Still, the story moves along at a good clip, and I really didn't want to put it down. I found it interesting and compelling. I wasn't surprised by the reveal; I don't think you're meant to be, because you pick up little clues all along, but I was completely invested in the story and anxious to see how she would come into her own truth. (Am I sounding really vague? I'm trying not to give too much away.)
There is a somewhat dark, oppressive tone to the story, not only because of Briony's guilt, but because of the Swamp inhabitants, who are not very nice. And yet there are lighter moments in the interplay between Briony and Eldric, and there is the seed of hope, that surely Briony will not be left to wallow in her misery forever, surely she is not as wicked as she thinks she is.


  1. I can't wait to read this one! It looks great and is sitting on my TBR pile.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Erica. I'll be interested to read your reaction on your blog.