I am a fan of dystopian fiction. I love it when an author creates a world and then uses it as a metaphor for our society. Unfortunately along the way I’ve read a ton of disappointing ones so the genre itself is always hit or miss.
After reading The Memory Police, I know now what makes a great dystopian novel – timelessness. I was surprised to find out that this novel was published in 1994 (translation, 2019) because it has an ultra contemporary feel to it.
The book takes place on an island where things are willed out of existence. One example is that one day roses are to be forgotten, so people mechanically take roses and dump them in the river and then they do not exist in the memory. There are hints that they still are present but people are incapable of remembering them. In order to maintain standards, the island is patrolled by The Memory Police, who search houses and arrest suspects who are hoarding forgotten objects.
The narrator of the book is a writer, who has two friends. One is an old man who used to be the captain of a ferry, before ferries were ‘forgotten’ and the other is the narrator’s editor, known as R.
R is one of the few people who can remember forgotten objects easily, which puts him in danger. The author then hides R in a secret room and the rest of the book is about working on concealing R. , her friendship with the old man , her encounters with The Memory Police and her coping with a society which is slowly disappearing.
As an allegory of government systems, this works. Reading about a government limiting a person’s mind and worldview is pretty frightening and Ogawa pulls this off well. I also liked how we reader’s get snippets of the narrator’s upcoming novel and how it mirrors her feelings about the current situation.
However there are some loose ends, especially during the last few chapters but I like a novel that is open to different interpretations, mine being that memory can live on but in different ways and that some how memory can be used to recreate a society.
Upon reading more about Ogawa, I found out that she has written over 20 books and only 8 have been translated into English. Hopefully The memory Police will make more people conscious of this writer and some more of her novels will be translated. From my part I will definitely check out the rest – I have The Diving Pool on my TBR stack.
Like This? Try this : Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451.