Saturday, December 10, 2016
Book Report: The Chimes
I don't always like Charles Dickens' writing, but I respect his ability to tell a story and push the right emotional buttons. He knew the way to tell an impactful holiday take was to dress the sentiment in dark, brooding surroundings that exposed his characters to a chilling doom and punishing sense of nostalgia that the season can deliver. When you're curled up by the fire reminiscing over beloved memories, you're confronted with the fear that things never may again be so sweet, as well as past opportunities lost.
Dickens embraces this darkness in The Chimes just as effectively as he did in A Christmas Carol, taking on themes such as failed marriages, lost youth and the misery of dedicating yourself to unfulfilling work to grind out a living. Ringing bells come into play again and again, like Poe's raven's haunting calls of "nevermore" -- the sweet sounds belying the harsh finality of times left behind. This is close to a horror story, and even the uplifting ending carries a nagging bitterness with it.
Dickens was in a bad mood when he wrote this, and his work is all the better for it. He went out to tell a quick, sharp story and did away with all the frivolous window dressing he burden his greater novels with. The Chimes deserves more credit than it gets, and sticks with you in the hours in between readings. It's quick enough to be worth revisiting year after year, to provide a grim tap on the shoulder that life and whimsy are fleeting, and the chimes that signal the end of your time on earth will sound for all sooner than expected.