Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Review: The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Publisher: Ebury Press
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Released: January 30th, 2014
Rating: 9/10

Amazon summary:

The name of your first-born. The face of your lover. Your age. Your address... What would happen if your memory of these began to fade? Is it possible to rebuild your life? Raise a family? Fall in love again? When Claire starts to write her Memory Book, she already knows that this scrapbook of mementoes will soon be all her daughters and husband have of her. But how can she hold on to the past when her future is slipping through her fingers...? 


The Memory Book is not something I'd usually read. I don't often find myself drawn to adult novels if they're not sci-fi/fantasy, but this time I was. I saw it at work and immediately wanted to read it, based on the fantastic premise and the strong author recommendations inside (I think it was the one from Carole Matthews that finally swayed me). I'm so glad I read this book because I absolutely loved it - it's amazing: sad, heartbreaking and life-affirming all at the same time. Also, the writing is lovely and Rowan Coleman is an author who I'll be keeping a close eye on from now on!

Claire is in her early forties, a driven and intelligent woman who has early on-set Alzheimers, thanks to a faulty gene passed down from her dad who also suffered with the same thing. Her counsellor gives her the idea of starting a memory book, a book to record memories, mementoes, thoughts and feelings for her and her family to read and be comforted by. Claire does just that, literally writing everything down that she can remember, before her brain eventually loses it all and she doesn't know who she is anymore.

This book is narrated by Claire, her daughter Caitlin, her mother Ruth and her husband Greg. Claire and Caitlin are the main writers in the memory book, though Ruth and Greg add a few memories of their own too. As much as this book is about a horrendous disease, it's also about a family and how they cope with their world falling apart. It's about decisions and life and hard choices and just living. It's about making every moment count when they're most needed, and it's about the strongest bond in the world: that between a mother and her daughter.

Every character in The Memory Book stands out in their own way, but my personal favourite is Claire's youngest daughter, three-year-old Esther. As Claire regresses, Esther is always there to make her laugh and smile, simply by being her young self. As Claire gets more confused and starts to slip deeper into her memories, Esther provides some much needed comic relief that lightens a very dark, sad situation.

The Memory Book tells a complete story of one woman's life which, when looked back on, is incredibly rich and accomplished. She has a loving family, the perfect teaching job and everything she ever wanted, until she gets the worst news she could have imagined. Even then she doesn't let it stop time, she continues to live to the best of her ability and spend her time in the present with those closest to her. It's an incredible display of courage, of a life well lived but threatened far too soon.

This book is, quite simply, fantastic. It's full of Claire's hope: hope for her children's futures and hope that her husband can manage on his own and live the life he always should have had. It's terribly sad and made me cry a couple of times, but it's also uplifting, funny, accomplished and completely unforgettable. I haven't read an adult novel this good for years, and it's certainly stuck in my mind - I find that my thoughts keep drifting back to it, wondering how Claire's getting on and what's happened in the time since I finished the book. It's a powerful read and one that I'm sure will be on many 'best of' reading lists.

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