Hamish Hamilton, £18.99, 372pp. £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Echo Chamber, By Luke Williams

The narrator of this remarkable novel is Evie Steppman, a woman in her sixties who has holed herself up in the attic of her decaying house in Gullane, eastern Scotland, to write her memoirs. Evie, as narrators will do in books of this type, has a rather particular super-power: a faculty of hearing so acute that she can actually hear the past. She can "hear" photographs, and catch echoes of her childhood and even prenatal existence, in 1940s Lagos. "This is what I heard," she writes: "the vicious spitting of feral cats, rug-beaters thwacking, traffic bustle and crowds. Fat goats being let to market, their bleating disharmonious and afraid. Women pounding manioc."

Evie, with her magical ears, might remind you of Saleem in Midnight's Children, with his sense of smell, or Oskar in The Tin Drum, with his monstrously accelerated mental abilities. Like both books, The Echo Chamber deals with the birth of a nation: newly independent Nigeria, where Evie's father had worked for the British colonial administration.

The difference here is that Luke Williams doesn't seem to be trying to squeeze his novel into the shape of a political allegory. For all the research that must have gone into them, the stories that come out of Nigeria – the voodoo folk tales in the marketplace, the sickening violence of the later civil war – are just stories, no more intrinsic to the structure of the book than those of Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights. This is a book in love with stories. Barely a character appears but they launch into an anecdote, a fable or a cautionary tale. Evie transcribes letters and diaries full of them, and wheedles them out of her grandfather, Mr Rafferty, who spends his days in a nearby "institution" under the illusion that he is one of various celebrated watchmakers.

For the echo chamber isn't just the human head, womb and chest (though it is all of those things): it is the novel form itself, made out of echoes of other novels, and itself. Williams is explicit about this in his acknowledgements, citing books on colonial Africa he has adapted passages from, plus others by Georges Perec, Bruno Schulz, Isaac Babel. He even gives up authorship entirely for two chapters, handing the pen to Natasha Soobramanien, who contributes diary entries on behalf of Damaris, an actress who becomes Evie's lover in the 1970s and tours America with her in the entourage of a Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie.

From Lagos to LA, and on to rainy Scotland, The Echo Chamber resists summary, but tumbles headlong through its pages driven by a seemingly unassuagable need to tell stories. I had worried that the gimmick of Evie's super-hearing would mean we were in for endless virtuoso descriptions of how things sound, but Williams is too restless a writer for that. Evie is writing, in part, to silence what she calls "the din of myself", but it will be a careless reader who isn't impelled to flip back to the start of the book on finishing it, to seek out the original sources of all those resonances.

Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines