The thing that makes this book so interesting is also what makes it…not interesting. Ok, hear me out…
Where The Memory Police excels is in the atmosphere it creates. This book is about the loss of just about everything – memories, security, hope, self – an erasure of past, present and future. Yoko Ogawa makes this loss real and tangible with a ghostly, dissociative atmosphere that gradually expands past the book and engulfs the reader.
Everything in this book, from the expansive ocean, the lack of food and the oppressive snow to the disappearances, the characters’ relationships and the embedded narrative, works to create the feeling of decay, nothingness, distance, disconnection. It’s a stunning effect and I don’t think I’ve seen it done so well before.
Unfortunately, a story about people passively haunting their own lives risks becoming a passive read itself. Instead of developing, the characters and story start fading away. Plot points are established – you start to feel you might be going somewhere – and then these too wash away.
But that’s the point!
Everything is carefully done to feed the oppressive cloud of nothingness. I looked forward to plunging back into the book’s powerful atmosphere, but I wasn’t hung up on what actually happened, and for that reason it took me a while to finish.
Nevertheless – I definitely recommend reading this book! It’s an immersive, sensory experience and you’ll be thinking about the atmosphere and the concept for weeks after you’ve finished. You just won’t be thinking about the characters or the plot!