Friday, December 30, 2011
The Witch-queen of Swampsea
by Franny Billingsley
National Book Award finalist 2011
Set in turn-of-the-century England, Chime recounts the story of teenage Briony, a self-effacing girl who claims to be a witch. In the first few sentences of the novel, she claims also to be a murderer, blaming herself for the swamp sickness that has claimed the lives of numerous townspeople, as well as the death of her step-mother. Her twin sister, Rose, who appears to be autistic but is never described as such, is also a major cause of Briony's self-loathing, as the girl again blames herself for her sister's condition. Due to the great amount of self-hatred depicted, I a number of people at my book club had difficulty slogging through this book, but it definitely pays off in the end.
While this novel definitely has elements of fantasy with various swamp spirits playing key roles in the plot, it often doesn't read like a fantasy novel, leaving several of my colleagues confused as to whether Briony was hallucinating or actually experiencing the various events involving the spirits. This uncertainty is probably the only qualm I had with the book, overall. The prose is usually rather elegant, indicative of Briony's class and her love of writing, and the story blends fantastic elements with reality rather well. The love interest, Eldric, is quite likeable, as are Rose and Briony. But, despite all its positive factors, Chime just didn't stick with me. I may well read it again someday, but I found myself really having to cull through my memory just to write this short review, and I know a friend of mine felt the same way.
Of the finalists for the National Book Award, this and Okay for Now are definitely my preferred titles; however, none of the nominees really jumped out at me as titles that will become canonized. Time will tell, I suppose.