The Memory Book

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Rowan Coleman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blank book is bound in red leather, and filled with textured paper that seems to "chime against the tip of a pen." The book - Claire's memory book - was bought by Claire's husband Greg on the advice of a counselor who thought it would be good therapy for her to write down the memories that her early Alzheimer's has begun to steal.

Four characters fill the book with narratives. Ruth, Claire's mother, writes about going on holiday with her daughter shortly after her own husband died of the same disease now devastating her daughter. Claire chronicles her deterioration, the unexpected joy of marrying Greg when her daughter Caitlin was a teenager, getting lost in the park and in time as the disease progresses. She worries that her three-year-old daughter, Esther, will forget her and will never know her love. Caitlin, pregnant and dropped-out of college, writes of her determination to exclude the father of her unborn baby from her life, unaware (at first) that she is about to repeat a decision that Claire had made - and now regrets. Greg writes of the unexpected joy he felt when he learned that he was to become a father.

Who are we if our memories are gone? Can you love if the people you loved are now strangers, or if you are no longer moored in time and space? The narrative moves forward and back through the pages of the memory book, and alternating chapters told from each character's point of view. Caitlin decides to follow her mother's advice and find her father, whom she had thought abandoned her. Will he welcome her? See himself in her? Love her? Claire takes pleasure in becoming friends with a man she meets in a cafe because he sees her purely as herself, not as a woman whose personhood is seeping away. These are affecting and sympathetic characters. The reader will care.

The literary device of a memory book is appealing, but there is so little deviation in tone amongst the writings and the alternating chapters that it begins to be a distraction. This is especially true of the chapters and pages by Claire. The woman whose mind is drifting into chaos, who can no longer read a picture book to Esther, and who plots gleeful, childish escapades with her three-year-old simply can not be writing long, nuanced commentaries about identity, emboli, and Jane Eyre. It simply is not believable.

Recommended, with reservations.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This is an honest review.

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