The Bell Chime - by Mona Kabbani
Updated: Jan 7
I want to start off with an apology to Miss Kabbani – I took an inordinate amount of time to complete this read, due to the rather horrifically painful discovery of another kidney stone, during the week I started reading The Bell Chime. Anyone who has had a kidney stone will be able to tell you how all-consuming they can be – and this is my fourth. I have found the only way to not be reduced to a screaming, shaking wreck, is to single out every single thing and shut out everything, except the pain, to actually concentrate on it and in a sense “control” the pain, or at least, mentally feel like you are boxing the pain in. It is hell and has no end.
This system works for me – it probably wouldn’t for anyone else. My point is, the first half of the book is based around a girl who creates an imaginary world in her head to avoid the mental and physical pain she suffers in the real world. The book is based around pain, describes pain, makes the reader live through her pain, and I had vast amounts of pain already in my life at the time I attempted to read it.
Not a good combination.
I decided in the hospital to put it aside for happier days (I think that was probably the best decision) and now, a month later (and still with the stone in me awaiting surgery (though also with a stent in my kidney to stop it hurting me)) I started reading the rest of the book yesterday. And the remaining 49 percent blasted by. Ironically, I had already read all of the pain-filled chapters. The second half of the book is the history of the character before the fall, so to speak.
It was just crappy timing, but I’m looking through my experience and ignoring it, to the meat of the book.
So, apology aside, how did I find Mona’s debut novel?
Phew. There’s a lot of things here to unpack. Firstly, the mental state of the MC is beautifully portrayed by Mona, her poetic prose works sublimely to convey immediately to the reader the unbalanced unreliable narrator – fairly quickly the novel escalates and the reader (at least, this reader) found himself questioning the validity of Elle (the author MC)’s world – her boyfriend, though lovely and thoughtful, shrugged off Elle’s concerns with way too much ease. That reaction was the trigger for my doubt, and believe that clue was left there to get that thought process going, so Mona leads the pace of the reveals subtly and deftly.
Mental health and depression, hallucinations, Anorexia, and self-harm, Kabbani tackles awkward and awful issues plaguing her character full-on and does so with non-sequential storytelling. The way the story is split is superbly done, showing the aftermath before exploring the events leading up to her “incarceration”, it appealed to the thinker in me. I’m a proponent of intelligent writing – and believing in the reader – “Let the reader think, dammit” is a favorite slogan of mine, and here the benefits of that belief come to fruition.
Pacing is tricky to comment on. Honestly, I was in a lot of pain and that first half was uncomfortable, so I’m going to ignore that half because it’s just not fair to the author or my subjective self to try to separate how I felt vs how it read, to me, they will probably always be linked together (thanks, Mona 🤣) – but the second half I CAN comment on, and it was a race to the end, I read it all in one sitting. Mona’s prose is very easy to read, the character work on the two MC’s worked well, both of the POV’S suited the occasion, it all bled together to create the full picture the reader wanted to discover. Only two things seemed to stand out as incomplete – firstly, the identity of the occasional narrator, and secondly, the MC’s reaction to the question – “Can you hear the bell chime?” – people under torture tend to respond to tormentor’s questions with the answer they believe the tormentor wants. But honestly, as I said, I was in a dark place when I read that first half, and honestly, I don’t really want to revisit it. It’s irrelevant to the novel anyway, and if I wasn’t doing the exact opposite at the time I was reading it (concentrating ONLY on the pain in my body), it would probably have been believable.
Mona’s Debut is a showcase for her elegant voice, intelligent story structure, inventive and creative plot writing, and adaptability (I believe the Bell chime started life a short). It’s a brave debut, the structure worked. But honestly, it’s Mona’s voice that sells the novel. Poetic, elegant, thoughtful, modern. I would have been happy with a retelling of Humpty Dumpty, she had me in her spell.
I’ll be buying "Vanilla" and look forward to immersing myself in another of Miss Kabbani’s novels.
Let’s try to make the next one not so painful. Bad timing, my bad, absolutely not the author’s, and will not be reflected in my grading -
Great Debut, Mona. 5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s
You can buy The Bell Chime by clicking on the Amazon store appropriate to you.
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