Thursday 9 January 2014

THE MEMORY BOOK by Rowan Coleman - reviewed by Tamsyn Murray

By complete coincidence, I've also chosen an adult book to review this time around as well. My choice is The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman, published by Ebury Press and out on 30th January 2014.
The Memory Book opens with Claire and Greg. On the surface, they seem like a perfect couple but it soon becomes apparent that there’s a shadow hanging over them – Claire has been diagnosed with an illness, one that she’s all too familiar with – Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Claire’s mother knows the disease too - it took the life of Claire's father years earlier. So both women are dreadfully aware of what the future holds – bit by bit, Claire’s memory will be stolen away, until she can no longer remember her name, her husband or even her own children.

The story is split between Claire and her teenage daughter, Caitlin. Interspersed between these two narratives, there are extracts from the memory book, a record of stories and events involving Claire over the years. Some of them are by Claire herself, written while she can still access her memories. These provide a poignant counterpoint to the unfolding story and give great insight into each of the characters, especially Greg and Claire’s mother.

As Claire’s condition worsens, her family struggle to keep her safe and tensions increase, especially as Caitlin is facing demons of her own. When Claire blurts out a long-held secret about Caitlin’s father, the family begins to disintegrate. Can Claire hold onto herself long enough to pull everyone back together? Or will her illness tear all of them apart?
I suspected from the very first chapter that The Memory Book would make me cry and I wasn’t wrong. It's a moving, compassionate, heart-rending account of an illness that must be desperately hard to live with - I defy anyone to read it without sobbing in places. But it’s also a compelling read that is uplifting in so many ways. As the mother of a toddler who hasn’t got the hang of sleep yet, I rarely allow myself the luxury of reading into the early hours these days but with this book, I couldn't help myself; the urge to find out what happened next was overwhelming and I couldn't put it down. And even though you know there can be no happy ending for Claire, The Memory Book still manages to end on a high, which is a major tribute to the skill of its author, Rowan Coleman. Once I’d finished reading, I immediately wanted to go back to the start and begin again to pick up all the subtle clues that lead eventually to that beautiful, clever ending.
Look, I know it's only January, and I never usually say things like this, but seriously, you can call off the search already – I’ve found my book of the year.



Sue Purkiss said...

This sounds a tough one! Can't decide whether to read it or to wimp out - it's like whether or not to go and see that new film about the man who was kidnapped into slavery...

Pippa Goodhart said...

I feel just as Sue does, but that promise of a 'beautiful, clever ending' makes me feel that this one will be worth the trauma. Thank you for spot-lighting it, Tamsyn.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Sue and Pippa - totally worth it! Even as the author was breaking my heart I couldn't help but admire her skill. And the payoff at the end left me with such a smile on my face. Read it!

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