My memory is perfect. Except for all of the times when it’s not. (Which is, truth be told, pretty much all of the time.)
Despite this (or maybe because of it – I don’t remember), I tend to enjoy novels in which memory plays a thematic role… novels where characters either remember events differently, and it complicates the plot, or memories haunt characters, and it complicates the plot.
That’s why I was amused when I read a series of novels this past year that were all related in some way to a female character losing her memory for some period of time, and the complications trying to recover what really happened, and who really to trust. If you’d like to jog your memory – or read about memory-jogging and its implications – know that the following titles range from delightful and charming to utterly, sleep-with-the-lights-on frightening.
Let’s begin with the delightful and work our way up to the bone-chilling.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty introduces us to Alice, a 29-year-old woman who loves her husband, is expecting her first child, and wouldn’t know a push-up if it was pushed on her. After a nasty fall in an intense exercise class, she wakes to find herself 39 years old, with three children, in the middle of a bitter divorce… not to mention the kind of person who takes intense exercise classes. You never doubt the ending (happy), and despite the amnesia clichés (which could be much worse), it’s an enjoyable ride as Alice pieces together the ten years that turned her from laidback and naïve to bitter and tightly wound.
Closer to the creepy end of the scale, Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind tells the story of Jennifer White, a surgeon who is suffering from early dementia, and the mystery surrounding the death of her neighbor and close friend – a death that involved the careful, even surgical, removal of the friend’s fingers. Did Jennifer, in fact, kill her friend? The reader is placed in Jennifer’s mind, which sometimes surges with full memories and intellectual capability, and sometimes slips into incomprehension and confusion. Starred reviews from everywhere – Library Journal, BookList, Publishers Weekly – agree that it’s the psychological implications of memory loss on friendship, family, and identity that make this an extraordinarily masterful novel.
What set my fear ablaze, however, was Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. This is a literary thriller that, like Turn of Mind, mainly takes place from the point of view of the female protagonist, Christine, who essentially wakes up with her memory erased every morning (after she sleeps), the result of a traumatic head injury suffered during a horrific attack a few years before. She is released to her husband and under the care of a neurologist who suggests she write in a journal – which helps her piece together her past… and points her to a chilling conclusion that the reader sees long before Christine does, making the tension ever more excruciating.