The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams

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The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Amy Taylor
Reviewed by Amy Taylor
Summary: Confined to an attic space in Scotland and losing her hearing, this is Evie's story of growing up in Nigeria in the last days of the British Empire where sounds echo through time. An original story by a new author.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241143001

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Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1946, in the last days of the British Empire, Evie Steppman had exceptional hearing. She remembers what it was like in the womb, the pumping of her mother's blood, the different tones of her father's voice telling her stories, and the clatter of outside noise, yet to be recognized as the falling of rain or the whining of the wind. As she grew up she learnt to listen to the sounds around her, for even in silence there is still the echo of one's own heartbeat. Now, many years later, her hearing is going, and with it her memories. Confined to an attic space in Scotland she needs to write her story down before it is too late. To do this she turns to objects – a pocket watch, maps, photos and diaries, to help re-form her past, to take us on a journey – not through sights, but through sounds.

This is an original and interesting debut book. I don't think I've read anything quite like it. There are stories within stories, not just Evie's, but also the characters that pass through her life. There is her Mother, whose own mother had no heart, her Father, who devoted his life to the progress in Africa (which is a whole other story in itself). And then there is my favourite, her Grandfather, Mr. Raffety, who is lost in time. His character is so charming, and says a lot without saying much at all. I could have read a book just about him. And this is just her family. There are other stories too, others that touch on the political issues surrounding what was the British Empire.

Evie, the narrator, or rather the author, uses a variety of writing methods – questions and answers, transcriptions, lists, and fables, to help capture events. The style is a bit stop and start, and takes some getting used to, yet there is some clever use of language. It makes Evie, as a character, hard to place in the book. At first I didn't engage with her, typing away in the attic on her computer, and was more interested in the other characters. It seemed the author was trying too hard to distinguish Evie's uniqueness. The lists of sounds: mere vibrations of the wings of a fly, to the hubble-bubble of a busy market place, were sometimes a little long, yet were good descriptions and got me listening. As the novel went on, Evie grew on me, with the help of two chapters, diary entries, written (not by the author) from her Lover's point of view. I perceived Evie through different eyes and saw her for who she really was, not the person she said she was. It added something that was missing in the book, letting Evie, both in the past and present, fit into place.

This is an interesting first novel, and if you like something that challenges the style of story telling – that questions what is truth, even in fiction – then give it a go.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try On Black Sisters' Street by Chika Unigwe or Shadow of a Thief by Celine Ibe.

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Buy The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams at


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