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You may know this book for several reasons: the absolutely stunning cover, the simple and memorable title that has been in the literary news quite a lot since its publication, or the entire Chime-Shine brouhaha last year. In case you remember that, you'll know that both Chime and Shine (Lauren Myracle) were moving high up in the National Book Award rankings. In the preparation for the final 5, a call was made; Chime was chosen, but Shine was understood over the telephone. In a national debate (keep Shine, make six candidates, stand by the mistake and remove Chime) the organization decided to keep Chime in the top 5. It was all very sad and unnecessarily involved, but the fact remains that both books were wonderful, amazing candidates for the list. I've now read one of them, and no doubt Shine is an incredible read if were to offer competition to Chime. Enough with this confusing background and onward!
As I've hinted at, I found Chime to be an exquisitely beautiful and scintillating read. I've been wanted to read it for a long time, but I finally received it as a gift from a friend. At first I wasn't too thrilled about the setting and scene--20th century British middle-of-nowhere, swamps, people constantly sick, jerk-hat townspeople, eldritch monsters and a vaunted religion-- but Billingsley's writing is so clean, so superb, so powerful, that it had me by the neck before I could even think about putting the book down again. The writing is so incredible in that it shows the rare lucid humor that other books force; Billingsley does not rely on clichéd plotlines or deus-ex-machinae, rather using brute elegance to weld a novel that is a rare honor to read.
What makes Billingsley's work such a pleasure to read is her gift of plot movement. The plot of Chime, first off, is convoluted and complex, but Billingsley handles it in a way that makes it still very fluid and logical. It may be a bit confusing at times, but you'll thank her later. Billingsley writes her plots with skill and poise. The mysteries slowly reveal themselves, but in a magical way: you as the reader will probably realize some things just a step ahead of Briony, the narrator. Billingsley will then tell you what you'd already guessed at, but in a twisty way that is so refreshing and pleasant, letting you as the reader feel that you have not spoiled anything for yourself. My writing is convoluted as I try to gush praise for the pace of this book. By the end you've realized one surprise on your own and BAM you're clocked over the head with two more.
Briony is the almost the best character ever, in a completely objective way, of course. She has flaws to stretch for days and she's a mean, depressed piece of impulsive work, but her character development is so masterful and tender that the reader has no recourse but to like her, instantly and irreversibly. Briony is a witch. Briony can do magic. Angry Briony means people are hurt. Briony is drawn to the swamp. Briony in the swamp means people are hurt. She broke her stepmother's back and blew up a factory. Briony is, in a word, swashbucklinglycool.
This book only has a few flaws, and they aren't exactly jarring; the writing, while elegant and beautiful, doesn't describe elegant and beautiful things; The Night Circus, which I read later, was more pleasing to read simply because of the beauty of the writing complementing the beauty of the things being described. I'd give this a 4.5.