Thursday, May 19, 2011
Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley
I can honestly say I've never read anything like Chime -- I bow before Franny Billingsley's imagination. Everything from the language to the plot to the pacing has a style and rhythm all its own in this modern day Grimm's fairy tale. It's clear that Billingsley delights in language, using it in inventive and unusual ways. Her incredible wordsmithery gives flair to this gritty tale. Chime is an intelligent novel, with Dickensian wordplay and echoes of Shakespeare in the metaphysical musings on the immortality of literature. Yet this story is not pedantic or abstruse. The novel is earthy and intuitive, accessible to anyone who enjoys the monsters and magic that lurk in the human imagination.
This isn't a whitewashed Disney tale. Chime is dark and grim and macabre, definitely not a bedtime story for the faint of heart. Billingsley's unflinchingly visceral descriptions will be emblazoned on readers' minds. Life isn't always rainbows and butterflies, and the rawness of the tale acknowledges that truth. Life can be cold, hard, and unfair -- and in this story, it is. Yet there's always light at the end of the tunnel, and Briony's journey out of the darkness is heartening, if harrowing.
It's difficult to pin down the novel's time period -- it is almost timeless. While the Swampsea seems colonial, the allusions are more modern, and the tale itself seems ancient. Briony imbibes this ethereal quality, both wise and naive, selfish and selfless. She lays it all on the table for the reader, and her authenticity is undeniable and bracing. Briony is an unforgettable heroine. Her crystal clear cadence sets the tone for the novel: she can be cold and cynical, yet her life is so spectacularly harsh that readers can't help but sympathize with her. Her wonderful imagination shines through in every word, from her wry use of understatement to the personification of the Swamp which permeates the tale.
Eldric, the electric boy with the lion's eyes, is also not the typical hero. He's like a cross between Henry Tilney and Prince Po -- carefree and playful, yet surprisingly worldly. Readers will fall in love with lion-boy and wolfgirl, as Billingsley shows (not tells) their spine-tingling romance. Though readers may foresee the final truth, it's impossible to tell what twisting path the novel will take to reach it -- just hold on tight and enjoy the ride. Chime is utterly unique and brilliantly creative -- a master class effort from a phenomenal talent.
Click here to purchase Chime by Franny Billingsley.