The Memory Police

Pantheon. Aug. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781101870600. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101870617. f.
In this unsettling allegory from Japanese author Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor), a young novelist suffers the knowledge that everything around her will disappear and live someplace beyond her memory. On an unnamed island, its residents wake up most mornings to the discovery that something has been removed from daily life — maybe perfume or roses, later calendars and novels — and once they vanish physically, they also vanish from the hearts and minds of the residents, as if they had never existed at all. These disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police, who forcibly remove anyone who still maintains the ability to remember. When the narrator realizes that her editor is one of those rare people, she conspires to hide him in a specially constructed space beneath the floorboards of her home. Using unadorned prose, Ogawa keeps the perspective on the narrator and her neighbors—we do not learn why this system exists or why certain objects have to disappear—but the effect is disorienting and often surreal.
VERDICT This vague but haunting dystopia draws overt inspiration from classic surveillance-state novels such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, as well as The Diary of Anne Frank, but its quiet horror and magical realism most recalls Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.

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