When I published my anthology collection, BIZARRE MESSAGING, I had no idea how to pursue the public fiction arena. But one thing stood clear: the reading and writing communities are largely confined to the internet. Having existed largely off the grid at the time, I realized I had to snap off my aversion for social media and try to find a way to establish some kind of presence. And when one looks at the reading and writing communities for the first time, one sees an endless, intermingled map of personalities–with no discernible door into the fold.
Mona Kabbani was one of the first people I approached (on Instagram) upon publishing BIZARRE MESSAGING. Shortly after, she wrote the first review for my little book (for which I’ll always be grateful, having proven that the reading community is open to completely unknown authors, and not just floor show exhibits dedicated to Stephen King praise). At the time, however, (to my mild embarrassment) I didn’t realize that Mona was embarking her own literary pursuits, juggling reviews and her edits like a circus trapeze artist twirling fire mid-air.
Since then, we’ve seen the Wattpad publication of the short story LAUREN, the release of THE BELL CHIME, and, most recently, the arrival of VANILLA (which I will most definitely be reading). Now, almost a year and a half after finding her, I’m proud to read and provide an HONEST review of Mona’s first published book, THE BELL CHIME.
"Can you hear the bell chime?" A girl suffering from paralyzing night terrors finds a missing poster hanging from the door of her apartment building. On that poster is a photograph of a frighteningly familiar face. It's her. Only, she's never seen this photo before and something about its grin scares her. How its eyes seem to follow her no matter where she finds herself in the room. Over a series of strange events to follow--events that will make her question whether her sanity is still there or fleeting--she must discover: What is real and what is the nightmare?
At the risk of exposing spoilers (considering its novella length), an examination of THE BELL CHIME’s structure will suffice for a plot overview.
My favorite part of THE BELL CHIME is its fearlessness in chopping itself into smaller parts that are then juggled back into the deck out of chronological order. These parts are framed within the FORWARD, INTERMISSION, END OF INTERMISSION, and AFTERWARD, wherein the author makes an expository appearance to introduce the story (as well as her initiation as a writer) and help shift the gears of its narrative meat. I often scorn authorial intervention, the addition of outside opinion in the story (which Mona doesn’t do)–however, there’s nothing wrong with BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL, especially when yielding exceeding results (which Mona does).This technique adds to the theatrical effect of the project, framing the longer sections: THE BELL CHIME, [section title withheld for preservation of effect], BEFORE THE RING, DYLAN WERNER, and THE FIRST RING.
With the juggled chronology between the parts, which now feels like a series of interconnected short stories, Mona does a great job of refocusing the camera, so to speak. Though the points of intersection are not hidden as they unravel (urging the reader to attempt connecting the dots before the author does it for us), Mona allows them to hover in the air until she ties the pieces together by the end.
First off–I loved the design of the book, inside and out. The online images of the matte cover don’t quite do the physical version justice. I particularly liked the back cover, which does as well a job as introducing Mona Kabbani the author as it does the story.
Inside, the design couldn’t be more clean.
Regarding voice, each of the longer sections of the story take on their own character. As each part finds the protagonist in a different stage of her journey, her awareness of the situation takes on new proximities of clarity depending on where she stands on the timeline. For a mentally-unstable individual, the
The nuances are applied believably, as we the readers often know more about what’s happening than our protagonist.
Sentences are written with brisk confidence, with no time wasted on single ideas. I really enjoyed the fragments following the full clauses, setting a good rhythm and shading. No rambling sentences appear, the syntax is solid. This contained style lends well to the chopped nature of the narrative, and allows shifts in character perception to be seen loudly in their subtlety.
Mona’s writing takes on exceptional flourish amid action scenes, sending off electric vibes, though the generous supply of metaphors in the reflective moments provides the author’s willingness to take chances and expect success time and time again.
For such a short book, Mona couldn’t have covered more ground. I believe the content to be appropriate to general audiences. As such, at times (in the best way) the story felt like a fleshed out episode from anthology shows such as CREEPSHOW 2, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, nhetc.
Several books and movies that THE BELL CHIME brings to mind: JACOB’S LADDER, THE MATRIX, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FIGHT CLUB.
Following the FORWARD, the first scene begins with a character waking up from a dream. Though this setup is typically regarded as a cliché, it is soon proven intrinsic to the story, as the story’s protagonist (let’s just consider her largely unnamed throughout the story) is prone to night terrors/sleep paralysis. I wondered if this introductory scene could have been omitted from the story’s final version, but realized that would have taken the edge off the introduction, as the dynamics between the protagonist and her boyfriend are rolled out through how they deal with this situation. The issue of the protagonist’s sleep paralysis are confined to the very beginning of the story, and I’m happy they are treated more as an introduction to the character rather than a revisited theme throughout.
Despite all the great things I can say about the writing and organization of the BELL CHIME, occasionally wordings would arise that seemed to hit the mark less squarely than they could have. This is primarily in the verb department. These moments didn’t hinder my overall view of the book, but I did have to stop several times and think about them.
Final Rating: 4