Claire McAlpine's Reviews > The Memory Police

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
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From an extraordinary writer and storyteller who defies categorisation, another tale that stretches and flexes the readers imagination, hauntingly written, leaving me to wonder just how she does it, a thought I had also after reading Revenge.

The Memory Police are an oppressive, bureaucratic menace slowly making things on the island disappear and with them all memories of them in the minds of inhabitants. And they enforce it. Check up on people to be sure, because though for most the memories disappear without effort, in some they linger. Those whose memory somehow stays intact are in danger, they begin to disappear, in hiding or removed.

Our unnamed narrator has lost both parents, taken by the police and no longer heard of, but her mother has tried to preserve and hide some of the things that disappeared through her art. The daughter is a novelist, as long as words, imagination and voice exist she continues to write. She accepts and continues to adapt to each disappearance with the help of an old man and the company of the neighbour's dog.

Her editor R goes into hiding due to his ability to remember and tries to instill in her the importance and value of memories, while sometimes a memory returns, for her, it no longer has emotional significance or meaning. She possesses empathy but is void of nostalgia, without the objects the memories disappear and even when one reappears, it no longer evokes feeling.

Gathering photographs (when they become the next thing to disappear) and albums to burn, R makes a desperate effort to stop her:
"Photographs are precious. If you burn them, there's no getting them back. You mustn't do this. Absolutely not."
"But what can I do? The time has come for them to disappear," I told him.
"They may be nothing more than scraps of paper, but they capture something profound. Light and wind and air, the tenderness or joy of the photographer, the bashfulness or pleasure of the subject. You have to guard these things forever in your heart. That's why photographs are taken in the first place."

It's a kind of dystopian novel that focuses more on the survival of the citizens than on exploring the tyranny that oppresses them, the Memory Police don't seem to be afflicted with the consequences of the disappearances and we don't understand what motivates them, there doesn't seem to be any purpose, merely an exploration of those aspects of humanity of the oppressed to survive and care for one another, whether that means putting one's life at risk to hide someone who does retain memories, to seek out old memories at the risk of being caught, caring for an old man and a dog.

Some things are innate to humanity and no matter what afflicts us, we are endlessly adaptable, continuing to find ways to work around and/or accept obstacles, here presented in a somewhat absurd manner, highlighting our inability to fight against adaptability. We have no choice but to adapt, it's written into our genes, and this regime has somehow managed to find a way to control and rewrite them.

Alongside what is happening on the island's (sur)real world, our protagonist writes a novel about a woman taking typing lessons from a man who will put her in a tower, the chapters are interspersed throughout the narrative and provide another thought-provoking aspect to the wider story.

When novels disappear and hers remains unfinished despite numerous attempts to write at the request of R, and a loss of inspiration, the old man asks her if it's possible to write about something in a novel even you've never experienced it.
"I suppose it is. Even if you haven't seen or heard about something, it seems you can just imagine it and then write it down? It doesn't have to be exactly like the real thing; it's apparently all right to make things up or even lie."
"That's right. Apparently no one blames you for lying in a novel. You can make up the story out of nothing, starting from zero. You write about soemthing you can't see as though you can see it. You make p soemthing that doesn't exist just by using words. That's why R says we shouldn't give up, even if our memories disappear."

Each disappearance activates the reader's imagination and the novel provokes many questions that make this interesting to discuss.

It's a novel that I'll be pondering for a few more days, wondering what it was getting at, just as you think you've found some deeper meaner, it kind of gets erased, there are no easy's like the advent of short term memory loss, a literary version of mild cognitive impairment, an affliction all humans over 40 are likely to experience and this novel makes you feel what that might be like. Astonishing.
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Reading Progress

August 11, 2019 – Shelved
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: around-the-world
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: around-the-world-2019
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: fiction
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: japanese-literature
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: translated
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: women-in-translation
November 22, 2019 – Started Reading
January 12, 2020 –
January 14, 2020 –
January 15, 2020 – Finished Reading
January 16, 2020 – Shelved as: around-the-world... (Hardcover Edition)
January 16, 2020 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Samir (new) - added it

Samir Rawas Sarayji Fantastic review! Going on my reading list.

Claire McAlpine Samir wrote: "Fantastic review! Going on my reading list."

Thanks Samir, her novels are so thought provoking and quietly devastating. Just love her work.

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