Random House, Ebury Press
Claire Armstrong is a strong, feisty protagonist whose downward spiral into early onset Alzheimer’s disease is written with such acute evaluation that I feel like I have travelled the whole of The Memory Book wrapped up in Claire’s skin. Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mocking Bird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I finished this book and sat reflecting on what I had just read. I was immensely moved by the way the author really gets into the heart and soul of Claire, she tells it like it is, doesn't pull any punches and yet reveals a story which is rich in the telling and which involves the whole family; from the acute and canny observations of Claire’s three year old daughter Esther, to the heartbreak of twenty year old Caitlin as she tries to become less of a daughter and more of a mother to Claire. Shining throughout the whole of the story is Greg, Claire’s young husband, who confused and baffled by the loss of the woman he loves and desires, attempts to encapsulate the essence of Claire within the pages of The Memory Book. Claire’s mother is served a double whammy as seeing Claire’s father struggle and deteriorate at the mercy of this harsh and hostile disease makes it doubly difficult for her to witness her own daughter’s rapid disintegration into the no man’s land of merciless confusion.
The book is filled with beautiful observations written with skill and precision and such fine attention to detail that I could have continued to read on long after the book was finished. The emotional involvement with the characters is so acute that you really miss them when the story is finished.
There is nothing remotely sentimental or contrived about The Memory Book. It is bold and beautiful, heart warming and life affirming, tender and merciless all at the same time. The beautifully balanced narrative is a real joy to read and reminds us quite forcibly that "what will survive of us is love".
Without doubt this is one of my reads of the year.
My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for my review copy of this book.
I know from personal experience just how all consuming this disease can be as piece by jagged piece I've seen my own mother fade slowly away. It’s rather like watching the colour seeping out of a brightly painted picture and as one by one the colours of her memories bleed away I like to think that the memories are still there and that she’s just misplaced them for a while.