Book Review – The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
Book: The Memory Police
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian
Year of Release: 1994 / Year of English Translation: 2019
Read 274-page hardcover edition in May 2020
On an unnamed island, a police-like, mass surveillance state controls things carefully, down to the very memories of its citizens. The mysterious memory police have the ability to enforce the people of the island having their memories taken away from them, by some unknown force or power. Over time, birds, flowers, photographs, all are taken out of the collective memories of citizens.
An unnamed novelist is doing her best to live her life in this dystopian world. Having lost her mom, taken by the memory police for an unknown reason, she often visits an old man, a longtime family friend. One day, when her editor is going to be taken away by the memory police for being one of the few people who does not lose their memories, she decides to work with the old man to hide her editor from the memory police in the floorboards of her house.
This book, by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa, brings to mind elements and feelings of Kafka, George Orwell (1984), and Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone – but done successfully in a totally different style. It is written in a dream-like, trance-like state, with thoughtful, melodic language. Yoko Ogawa is an exceptional writer, with imagination and unique style, building on old themes and taking them in new directions. It truly is a treat that this book from 1994 has been translated into English for a wider audience to access.
Some key examples of the great language in this novel:
” ‘Aah, I can feel it. I can feel the snow.’
His quiet words were absorbed into the night.”The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa, Page 112
“I was content now to listen to everything he said – like a child with the hem of her skirt spread, waiting to receive God’s chocolate from heaven.”The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa, Page 219
On point with the themes of the story, the author makes a great decision not to give her characters names. They are mysteries to us, just like things that happen around the characters are mysteries to them. Furthermore, the author employs a story within a story, allowing us to read some of the novel that the main protagonist is writing. The story is about language and memory and loss, and builds further upon the themes being told in the main story. This is a great structure for the novel, and Yoko Ogawa should be praised for the creativity behind this book.
As the book progresses, it gets progressively bleaker and darker, and also more intimate, as the world feels like it presses against our characters. Yoko Ogawa does a fantastic job of creating tight spaces with these settings, and the main characters house, or the snow falling constantly outside, are written beautifully.
The ending of the book is powerful, imaginative, and poignant. It makes a statement about themes of memory, loss, control, and power. This is definitely a novel worth reading!
Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars