Memory is a fascinating subject, we all would like to improve ours, I certainly would. Sometimes we remember things quite differently from what others who were there at the same time, remember. Siblings may remember things you have no recollection of whatsoever. There’s false memory syndrome, Capgras syndrome and the continuous study in trying to understand better how memory works.
Just now, as I started writing my review, the New Scientist publishes an article on remembering things that never happened. Fascinating all this. And false memories, loss of memory etc provide great plots for stories in which a protagonist has lost her memory because of an accident or a trauma.
Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson is about a woman, Christine, who wakes up every morning in a bed and environment she does not recognise, next to a man she does not recognise. Every morning this man tells her he is her husband, Ben, and that she has lost her memory due to a near fatal car accident. She goes through days only to lose her experience of that day whilst sleeping – her mind is wiped clean.
‘I stand up. I move through the time from room to room. Slowly. Drifting, like a wraith….’
Every morning a Dr Nash rings her and tells her she has a diary, a notebook, hidden in her wardrobe, in which she has started writing down her every day experience and so by rereading every morning what she experienced the day before, she is able to build up a slightly larger picture of herself, every day. She does not trust the man she wakes up with, is not sure that he is Ben, but he says he is. She finds out she has a son, only Ben tells her that her son is dead, killed in Afghanistan.
What are we without memory? The other question is in how far can we trust our memories? Dr Nash reminds Christine that everyone constantly changes facts, rewrites histories to make things easier, more bearable for ourselves. We often invent memories. This is of course completely confirmed by science as born out in the New Scientist article. We rarely challenge our own memories.
Before I Go to Sleep is a thriller, it does not delve too deeply into the various symptoms and syndromes, unlike the Echo Maker by Richard Powers. In the Echo Maker, a near fatal accident results in complete loss of memory and Powers really has done his homework, describing Capgras syndrome. This, however, is also a psychological thriller about what happened that night when Mark Schluter, the main character, had the accident.
In both books, memory loss puts the characters in vulnerable positions, they can be manipulated and their loss of memory results in a dependency that is not wanted. Other people who claim to love the person, misuse this dependency.
I enjoyed reading Before I Go to Sleep and it made me think about my own memories and the ones I have lost. Can I really trust them? Can I trust what I think I know about other people? Who would ever dare write autobiographical stories after reading books like this!
- Richard Powers and Generosity (51stories.wordpress.com)