What does it mean to be made of your memories? That’s the question Sharon Cameron tackles in The Forgetting. I had no idea what I was in for when I started the audiobook, and that was a big contributing factor to my enjoyment. Basically The Forgetting is set in a city where every 12 years, everyone’s memories are erased. And there are a whole lot of dodgy things going on, so the (remembering) protagonist, Nadia, has to figure that out. I really loved the structure of the story and Nadia’s characterisation.
Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.
In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.
But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.
I did struggle a little with the writing style–it’s a very ‘tell not show’ kind of writing, which was okay, but I think it could have been a little more subtle. The other thing was that there were a few holes in the explanations–e.g., wouldn’t parents describe their children in their books so that they could access it after The Forgetting.
The best thing about this book is that it is a surprise. I listened to the first few chapters, and thought I had a pretty clear idea of what shape the book was taking. A few revelations late, I had changed my mind completely, and I only had an idea of the ‘real’ shape of the story in the last few hours. This makes a novel so interesting to read–the perpetual surprises are intriguing. The pace of the story is weird–it’s not quite your triangle rising action climax stuff; it’s a gentle unearthing of the secrets of Canaan and it’s residents. The structure of the story is incredibly compelling, and I loved how particular scenes morphed into what you didn’t expect–the anguish of Nadia’s mother, the secrets of the mountain, the structure of the council, the agony of a lost father, the mystery of both remembering and forgetting. The world Cameron creates is vivid and her story works organically with it.
I also loved Nadia as a character. The inclusion of her silence was an interesting additional element, and I really loved that this made all the words she did say so much more powerful. She doesn’t feel like she is part of her family, because she remembers, and they don’t. She’s exceptionally vulnerable, and exceptionally curious, and the power of her curiousity is what pushed her over the wall, more than the need for rations. I loved that she was curious, but also uncertain. She’s definitely a flawed character–impulsive and rude, and just bad at making decisions, but that’s part of what makes her interesting. She was a really appealing character.
This story offers opportunity for all sorts of thoughts on the nature of forgetting and memory, and what it means for identity. But Cameron doesn’t worry too much about drawing conclusions from that. She just presents the characters, their response and fears and longings, and the a-bit-too-obvious sections from Nadia’s various books. I really appreciated that–it’s done in a subtle, nuanced way that is simply enjoyable.
What’s your favourite amnesia book (there are a lot of them out there?) and have you read this one? tell me in the comments!