“People – and I’m no exception – seem capable of forgetting almost anything, much as if our island were unable to float in anything but an expanse of totally empty sea.”
The Memory Police enforce the forgetting of the things that are disappeared from an unnamed island inhabited by an unnamed author. From time to time, the people of the island wake up with the restless knowledge that something else is gone and banish any contrary evidence from their homes, towns and minds. Things disappear, memories of them disappear, and the memories of forgetting disappear. For most people, forgetting is easy and whatever has been disappeared just slips away. But a few remember, and must carefully maintain the facade of forgetfulness or face the Memory Police.
The author’s mother remembered, and when she was taken away she left behind a collection of strange objects that the author cannot understand. The author’s editor remembers, and she can’t face the thought of losing him and their work. She can feel her soul winding down and fears her own disappearance. So with the help of her friend, an unnamed old man, the author constructs a secret room in her house to hide him in, and they continue their work on her latest novel about a typing student whose voice is being stolen from her. Meanwhile the disappearances continue and grow more abstract, hollowing out life on the island, as forgetting becomes increasingly difficult to embody.
This is a gentle, surreal and mesmerising novel. The strange world of the island feels very real as it slips further from reality, a meditation on memory, trauma and loss, individual and collective.
The Memory Police was published in Japanese in 1994, but only reached the English speaking world in 2019, gaining multiple well-deserved award nominations including International Booker Prize, National Book Award and World Fantasy Award. This was another stop on my local book club’s world tour this year and of our favourites. If you like Haruki Murakami, given this a try.