3.5 star

Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.

A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.

This is one we chose for our book club, and I was certainly intrigued through the synopsis. The book didn’t play out as I expected though, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I may enjoy it more reading it a second time around. Stay tuned for exactly why that was.

The Memory Police takes place on an unnamed island where things “disappear” at random intervals, each time being erased completely from the memories of its inhabitants…except from some select individuals. The Memory Police strictly enforce the disappearances, and particularly hunt down these individuals. Our protagonist faces her fair share of struggles against the Memory Police, all while battling the power the disappearances.

I have to start with the plot first. I just wasn’t expecting it. I don’t want to spoil it, but this story is much more about the power of memory and what it would mean to forget certain things, rather than actually following the story of the characters. The characters were certainly good, and I got invested wondering what would happen to them. However, I think the story is a bit more esoteric than that and kind of forces you to think about it more from an outside perspective. It’s a bit of a story similar to 1984 and I can see why it would have an impact on how you might view the world.

There were very few characters, but like I said, it was really more about how the island and its disappearances affect the characters, especially the difference between those that no longer remember, and those that remember. The difference is stark and tragic, and really makes you consider and ponder the power of memory. The main character is also a writer and we get more and more glimpses of excepts of her novel, which I think are a very interesting reflection of the situation at hand too. You can decide for yourself how the “story” plays into the context of the whole story.

I think the book sends a really strong message, and it certainly gives me a lot to think about. But for some reason I can’t give it a higher rating, but mostly because I expected a little bit more from the story, I think. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but I just wasn’t satisfied with the ending and how things tie up. I think it made sense, and it wasn’t left open, but the way the story was heading made it feel like it would head in a different direction. I feel like the story and message could’ve been advanced differently and have been a more interesting plot while still maintaining the message, so perhaps that is my gripe with it. But I think overall it was worth reading and I recommend it if only for that broadening of perspective.

Overall Recommendations

The Memory Police revolves around a mysterious island where objects can disappear at any time, slowly fading from memory until all that is left is an empty gap. Simultaneously everyone forgets…except some people. Those are the people hunted by the Memory Police with unrelenting stringency. Follow the story of the protagonist and her few friends as she navigates life with more and more objects disappearing from her island. The book has a very strong message about the power of memory, and just what value and worth is stored in memory, and also the trauma of loss, particularly memory loss.


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