The Memory Police is the kind of dystopia I like. No Hunger Games-esque confrontations with the Big Bad. No sadistic rolling around in the concept (aka “torture porn”). No forsaking character for story. The characters drive this story. The society they live in impacts them and they adapt. It’s a well-told tale.
I would have loved to have read this book in its original language. I feel like there are probably subtleties I could have picked up on. But what I did get was good enough. Yoko Ogawa is a talented writer. She’s an excellent sensualist and she has to be for a concept like this: where things from birds to flowers to books are disappearing, all people have are wisps of memory that are supposed to be gone as well. She chronicles the struggle to keep them alive.
Along the way, it mirrors the struggles of the characters to survive. Their way of life has been stripped of them and now the essentials of life are leaving, slowly but surely. The main character, a woman who is never named, is able to build community with two other men, an older neighbor and a younger one she is hiding from the Memory Police. Their bonds; their sheer will to survive makes this a most riveting tale. Even the story-within-the-story that the protagonist writes grabbed me. It talks about a different kind of disappearance altogether but is haunting in its own right.
I have one final thought but it might be a spoiler so I’m going to post it below. Feel free to avoid…
I wonder if all of this is supposed to be symbolic of a person with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or even just an older person slowly losing their mind and thus their memories. And the “Memory Police” function as their doctors/caregivers who are chastising them for forgetting. That last scene really drove home that possibility for me; the idea of what goes and when. I don’t know anything about the author or why she wrote the book, it’s just my pet theory.