The Echo Chamber is narrated by Evie Steppman who was born in Lagos in 1946. Evie has always considered herself to have a remarkable sense of hearing – she even remembers listening to her father telling her stories while she was still in the womb – but now that she’s getting older she can’t hear as well as she used to. Sitting in her attic in Scotland surrounded by diaries, maps, postcards and other items from her past, Evie decides that it’s time to write the story of her life.
This is an interesting and unusual book which encourages the reader to think about sound in a new way. It made me really appreciate the everyday sounds that we take for granted.
At first I found it difficult to form an emotional connection with Evie as a person. There were other characters that I found more interesting – I was particularly fascinated by the character of Evie’s grandfather, Mr Rafferty, a watchmaker who tried to create a clockwork replica of his late wife. And so I appreciated the inclusion of two chapters in which we get the chance to read Evie’s lover’s diary; seeing her through someone else’s eyes gave an extra dimension to her character. I also enjoyed the chapters which dealt with Evie’s childhood in Nigeria during the final years of British rule.
The Echo Chamber is written in a number of different formats – diary entries, question and answer sessions, stories-within-stories – and although I’m not sure this really worked for me it did add to the originality of the book. I didn’t find it an easy read, but as a debut novel I think Luke Williams can be proud to have come up with something so different and imaginative.