Enter the world of Evie Steppman, born into the dying days of the British Empire in Nigeria. It's loud and cacophonous. Why? Because Evie can hear things no one else can. Although she's too young to understand all the sounds she takes in, she hoards them in a vast internal sonic archive.
Today, alone in an attic in Scotland, Evie's powers of hearing are starting to fade, and she must write her story before it disintegrates into a meaningless din. But the attic itself is not as quiet as she hoped. The scratching of mice, the hum of traffic, the tic-toc of a pocket watch and countless other sounds merge with the noises of Evie's past: her time in the womb, her childhood in Nigeria, her travels across America with her lover . . .
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.