The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa


Chosen by Jo

On an unnamed island, people’s memories are slowly deleted by the controlling authority, the Memory Police.

✚ “Censorship and authoritarian surveillance are at the thematic heart of this novel. Items that represent art, cultural identity and independent thought are slowly “disappeared” and the population of the unnamed island are forced to forget items and all memories associated with them. Whether the Memory Police have thought control or are simply the enforcers of the rules is unclear but just their existence instills dread and fear in the reader. There are many words that accurately describe the book: Orwellian, dystopian, existential, science fiction.

“Of course there is a resistance, people who do not forget. They hide in friend’s basements or feign docility whenever the Memory Police pass. The unnamed narrator of the book has such a boarder – a book editor named R. He spends his time assessing the narrator’s half written manuscript and reintroducing her to items that no longer exist.

“The manuscript runs a parallel story of censorship, of a typist with no voice who is held hostage and afraid to escape when given the opportunity. Just as the typist’s experience seems to come to life in this book, the author Yoko Ogawa warns us that the contents of her book can be found in real life: tyranny, passivity as a survival instinct, but also opportunity for resistance.

“Written in 1994 and translated into English in 2019, the novel has a timeless quality that had us bookclubbers drawing references to totalitarian states of many ages from deep in the past to modern day. Of added comparison was the current state of the world, living with Covid and the ‘acceptable’ level of control required to manage it.

But as things got thinner, more full of holes, our hearts got thinner, too, diluted somehow. I suppose that kept things in balance.

✚ “For something so unique and different, The Memory Police was surprisingly easy to read. I haven’t read anything like this before and enjoyed the storyline. Once I researched it I found I liked it even more – it’s such a tragic tale! The simplistic style of writing allowed me the room to process the story and themes themselves rather than spending time trying to interpret the text.” – Jo

✚ “I loved The Memory Police for its relevance. This is not a book written purely for entertainment value, it has an important message about the danger of tyranny and how elimination of free thought is the surest way to suck the life out of people. Its Kafkaesque style produced many parallels to the Covid world in which we are living today and there were layers and layers of close-to-home meaning. For something written 25 years ago to be so relevant today is a sure sign of class.” – Rachel

✚ I liked The Memory Police a lot, which is surprising to me in that I don’t normally enjoy ‘odd’ books such as this. I liken the reading of it to studying a Salvador Dali painting. Strange, a little uncomfortable, intriguing. The book was literary surrealism, painted beautifully. I found the writing style easy to read, and the imagery clear in my head. I felt drawn in by the characters. I liked them. I knew them; even though they were nameless. So yes, it was a thumbs up from me. Weird, uncomfortable but beautiful too.” – Sonya

✚ “Though initially intriguing, The Memory Police became repetitive for me. The island’s residents would love something, it would disappear, they would learn to live without it, the Memory Police would take some kind of action related to the “disappeared” item and then the cycle would start again. Overall I felt there were too many unanswered questions to make it memorable.”– Jodie

✚ “The Memory Police was written in 1994, yet its focus on the effects of thought control seem to be extremely topical right now. The author reminds us that free thinkers are always the first ones silenced but they must have their voice to fight against power hungry leaders. – Becks

Published 1994
274 pages

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