This shiny new sci-fi drama debut about memory erasure procedures naturally draws parallels to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films. And I can see the comparisons, but this book tells a story all of its own.
At the heart is Nepenthe, an organisation which makes a business of erasing unwanted, painful or traumatic memories. We are introduced to Nepenthe at a point of controversy, when problems have been discovered with the procedure – people are experiencing ‘traces’ of their forgotten memories. And people want their lost memories back.
“Memory is a strange thing. Floating in the water, like a jellyfish. Gelatinous, both sticky and slippery. Translucent. Venomous.”
This is a multi-layered tale with 5 narrators. Their stories are all interlinked and, of course, they all stem back to Nepenthe. Although they’re only loosely connected, as a reader with a personal hate of short story collections masquerading as novels myself, I found the connections and characters strong enough to enjoy it all and found it easy to follow.
We meet Noor, who works at the Nepenthe lab in London, and a selection of their previous clients and their partners who are now scattered across the world. It’s a globe-trotting, emotional deep-dive into relationships, philosophy and how much your memories make you who you are. The characters are diverse, but every voice felt real – an impressive feat in itself for a debut.
The only place where this book slightly fell down for me is, ironically, the ending. The author beautifully builds up the tension and emotion, and it makes for compelling reading as you follow each person’s journey to learn what their erased memory was, and what secrets lurk under the surface of the clinic. While they do come together in some ways, it really presents a multitude of endings for every character’s individual circumstances. Some were satisfying, some were emotional, and some fell a little flat. But, still, for a debut, this book packs a big emotional punch, made me question things, and kept me gripped until the end.
So, if you love speculative, character-driven sci-fi, give this one a go. It’s worth it for the journey alone.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5.