BOOK THOUGHTS: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

This book was written in the 90s but I think translated into English more recently, even getting shortlisted (or did it win?) for some major awards.

It is a real slow burn and actually sort of meandering novel, but in the end I decided that I really loved it and feel very glad to have read it.

Here is the blurb, and my thoughts are afterward.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

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.

A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.

BOOK THOUGHTS on The Memory Police:

I read this translated book at the beginning of the year, after picking it up at an art gallery gift shop when attending an incredible Japanese art exhibition on the creepy and supernatural, both in contemporary and historical artwork. It was an amazing exhibition!
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I hadn’t heard of this book before I read it, and it was only afterwards that I found out, although it was originally published in the 90s in Japan it was a finalist in a major translated fiction award in 2019! I like how relevant it still is after so many years. As an author myself, I know not all books have a long life or remain in print indefinitely!
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I really liked this book. The writing is simple and the story feels gentle, quiet and filled with small moments of mundane domestic activity… Until you get to the bits where things are disappearing, from the world and from memory.
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Sometimes I wondered where the book was going and what it was trying to say, it can feel quite gentle and meandering, but by the end the emotion really gut punched me. The ideas behind this story are very powerful and moving and I’m so glad I read it! I think its themes also really creep up on you, more and more over time, so now whenever I think about this novel, its message still feels very powerful. It is really a social commentary on the power that individuals, state and government have to truly make people believe that the framework of their existence is the only way to live. And, like in real life, in this book anyone who believes differently, or sees the truth, is quietly disappeared. It is quite a haunting story with a very strong message, all wrapped up in a slow domestic fable that is half mundanity and half strangely moving and ethereal. Also, the ending hurt my heart, but it was also the point of it all and the emotional tipping point that really ensured this story sunk beneath my skin.
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I actually also found it very inspiring as an author, it makes me want to write something that means so much! Such a deceivingly simple story has in fact got such a loud voice. And I think there is no better feeling than being inspired by the stories you read!

Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Lee Evie

LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea.

Lee Evie’s historical fiction novels!


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