The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

by Kristopher Cook
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa Book Cover
When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.
Genre: Contemporary
Available from: Amazon UK | Amazon US

A highly original Science-fiction novel typically grounded in everyday reality, much to the style of Flowers for Algernon. The book is rich in story-telling, and profoundly moving in its truth.

Although The Memory Police only came out last August [2019] due to a recent English translation, it was first published in Japan back in January 1994. The translation is by the sensational Stephen Snyder, who also translated Out by Natsuo Kirino.

Ogawa had stated that her obsession with Anne Frank, when she was younger, was the main inspiration behind this novel.

Touching on topics of heavy surveillance, and an overall big-brother-state within a dystopian landscape, it’s amazing how this story still holds up today. I guess that has more to do with how society goes around in endless circles (see 1984 selling out after Trump’s election).

It would be too easy to compare the events in the book to Mao’s China, or any other Asian communist regimes, as it can be as easily applied to modern-day politics. His is part of the charm on offer here; you give it the meaning you want to see most or none at all.

Likewise, it demands that you think about the possessions you have. What do they mean to you sentimentally, and what would you do if you were forced to give them up?

An Anonymous Account

The unnamed narrator, a novelist, remains marooned on a large island with the village for company. As the story progresses, it’s revealed that there was once a time when they could travel to nearby land, but then the Ferry vanished, just as everything around them is slowly disappearing; most notably, people who cause trouble.

It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvellous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is on this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one.
Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police

No one in the book has a clear identity, or at least not a personal one. Characters are referred to as R, her editor and hideaway, and Old Man, who she’s known since she was young.

This creates a formal environment, but also one that’s completely lacking in personal connections. Given how the book is written, this seems utterly intentional by Ogawa. One of the main themes here is a lack of personal identification. Sure, they all have names, but nothing is ever their own, not for long.

The book has certain similarities to Kōbō Abe’s Woman in the Dunes. Both have seemingly dream-like flows to them, as well as carrying a similar message of morality. Although The Memory Police is more easily comparable to today’s political situations.

Closing Thoughts

This is a great read, not too long, that breezes by while leaving you with much to think about come the end. Characters are well-written, the plot is reasonably tight, and the philosophical wanderings are plentiful.

The Memory Police has me intrigued enough to check out more of Yoko Ogawa’s work in the future, any recommendations?

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