An evocative and exquisitely written debut novel about family, empire and money.
Impressive in its scope and ambition, this first novel is at once a family saga, a book that reimagines the myth of the empire, and a history of objects. The Echo Chamber is narrated by fifty-four- year-old Evie Steppman, who grew up in Nigeria in the 1950s during the last decade of British rule. As a child, Evie exhibited extraordinarily acute powers of hearing; now, alone in an attic in Scotland that is filled with objects from her past and with her powers of hearing starting to fade, she sets out to record her history before it all disintegrates into a meaningless din. Tales of the twelfth-century mapmaker in Palermo, stories whispered by embittered expatriates, and eyewitness accounts from Nigeria's civil war mingle with Evie's memories of her childhood, of her grandfather, a watchmaker who attempted to forge a mechanical likeness of his dead wife, and of her travels across America. Williams's interest in history and storytelling and his talent for evoking multiple voices will remind readers of the work of David Mitchell, Peter Carey, and Jonathan Safran Foer.
Evie Steppman, the narrator of Williams's ambitious debut novel, was born in Nigeria during the final years of British occupation. Now alone, she's isolated herself in a Scottish sea-front house to recount the story of her youth and her family's exile to Scotland during Nigerian independence. From the moment of her conception, Evie's keen "powers of listening" allow her to hear extraordinary things, from the stories her father read to her in the womb to the Earth turning on its axis, creating acoustic memories that have shaped her consciousness. Evie relays events through her strongest sense (others, such as sight, are now failing). Williams takes a playful formal approach and has an admirably broad scope, covering three generations of the Steppman family, a brief history of ancient mapmaking, and the early days of British colonial Nigeria. Of all the strands, Evie's tale is the most complete, a compelling narrative of one woman's attempt to record, observe, and chronicle what she knows and how she came to know it. Williams occasionally loses the thread, but the confusion that arises, we soon learn, lies within Evie's own mind and propels her and the reader to question the veracity of memory.