January Book Club: The Memory... uhh... what was it again?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Fireblend, Jan 3, 2020.

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What did you think?

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  1. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Our book for January is:

    The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
    [​IMG]

    "On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, things are disappearing. First, animals and flowers. Then objects--ribbons, bells, photographs. Then, body parts. Most of the island's inhabitants fail to notice these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the mysterious "memory police," who are committed to ensuring that the disappeared remain forgotten. When a young novelist realizes that more than her career is in danger, she hides her editor beneath her floorboards, and together, as fear and loss close in around them, they cling to literature as the last way of preserving the past."
    Feel free to discuss your current thoughts on the book while you read, report your progress, etc. and make sure to vote in the poll when you finish it!
     
  2. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    I've only read 2 chapters so far.

    Really not enough to form an opinion, these 2 chapters are pretty much a re-statement of the premise blurb I posted above. The way it's written kind of reminds me of books I've read that can be interpreted as allegories or metaphors about something else, like Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World where a village is kind of a stand-in for a character's subconscious, or La Casa Tomada, a short story by Julio Cortazar which can also be interpreted to be a metaphor for how the brain processes dreams (censorship is one of the subjects it tackles so easy to draw a parallel there). Those are also novels that take place in restricted places that the characters can't escape, so that too might be what makes The Memory Police remind me of them. I wonder if by the end this book will also be readable in that way, or if it will eventually care about developing in a less allegory-sounding direction if that makes sense.
     
  3. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    (I just realized the book description in goodreads calls it "part allegory" so maybe I'm onto something lol)
     
  4. CaptainNuevo

    CaptainNuevo MDTLA Enthusiast
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    I read the entire thing and finished it like... 2 hours after the announcement, if that, so I'm excited to talk about this finally!
    So gonna post a few thoughts.

    One thing I found super super hard to fully grasp and understand in this book is the nature of the disappearances. It's still super difficult to me to understand all the urges they described and the weird transition period where they knew what was disappearing, but not how it worked. This was probably most apparent for me in the end when their bodies start disappearing, and they're just kinda... limping around on 1 leg, despite them being there. It's just so bizarre to be able to see something like that and have no attachment or memory of it, and trying to understand where that barrier was is still super difficult in those more extreme cases.

    I did appreciate that they never really went into details of how the disappearances and memory police were really decided though. They're just... a force that's there and we have to deal with it. There's no logic, no order to them or their existence. They just are.

    The more I'm thinking of it, the more I'm wondering if this is just a long reflection on memories as a whole. We forget things all the time, and sometimes even visual cues don't actually allow us to remember what something is. Yet we see in both the narrator's story (I forget if she even has a name at this point), and in the real world, that memories seem to be the only things that give anything purpose or meaning in the world. It's our soul, and yet we are naturally in a "cleaning state", with our brains compartmentalizing and moving things all the time. Sometimes we don't forget what things physically are, but alter our perception and memory of what they were. Like the ferry which was now just a house, we alter our past memories to better shape our understanding and they don't line up 100% with reality. Maybe the memory police are just our brains, operating in ways we can't fully understand deciding what's worth remembering and not, destroying those that aren't worth keeping, regardless of whether or not we treasure them. Maybe R is the heart and sentimentality, pushing back "Even date books are important! We mustn't get rid of those!" trying to fight to keep some semblance of attachment we have.


    This is probably the best ending I've read in a Japanese author's book so far though, especially compared to how I normally feel with Murakami's work or All She Was Worth. I feel like it ended in a very good spot for once.


    Also generally just a shout out to the translation here. I'm not sure how accurate it is at all in either word choice or content, but it reads very cleanly and smoothly.
     
  5. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Read 2 more chapters. I think I'll continue reading ~2 chapters/~5% a day and post impressions if I have em.

    So far I'm interested in the allegorical interpretation of the plot. I'm reminded of the way you forget about a dream throughout the day, even if it was really vivid when you woke up, and the way some of the things remain (like the ferry or some(?) birds) but people can't contextualize them make me thing of some degenerative memory disease like Alzheimer's. Mentions of DNA tests and subconscious mind too. I'm also very interested about the people who run the island, I wonder if that's gonna be explored at all. The memory police showing up out of nowhere like automatons and just doing their job feel very biological process-ish to me, like how white cells are represented in Cells at Work! Or something like that. Definitely interested in this and enjoying it, all the more reason to take my time with it.
     
  6. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Reading chapter 5 put me at 15% so I guess that's that for today. Nice little vignette anyway.

    Not a lot of allegorical content here, but a pretty interesting chapter nonetheless. We get a pretty detailed description of the MC's house, which again reminds me of the architectural descriptions in La Casa Tomada. Lots of thresholds and a bridge. We also get some mom backstory, that's interesting plus the dermatologist guy being asked to help with research (on genetic analysis? I'd expect a university with a dermatology department to have a more adequate expert for the role) in much the same way she was. Something I'd also thought earlier is I was imagining this was kind of a small town but I think that's wrong and it's more like a big city.

    Also I wonder if at some point the small sculptures will become relevant or if there's some significance to the mom's fascination with tapirs. Also, purple letters.

    I'm enjoying writing these, feels like I might be able to appreciate the book better this way. I'm definitely feeling better about sharing my thoughts as I go along rather than at the very end.

    Also I agree with cap in that the writing flows super well for a translation. Very solid work.
     
    #6 Fireblend, Jan 4, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2020
  7. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    I'd be interested in getting a glance at the translation at some point. I'm about halfway through chapter six right now. I'm enjoying it but it's not exactly drawing me in. Plot is coming in kind of drips and dribbles it feels like.

    As an aside, it's interesting that it seems no one knows this book here. There are like 34 reviews on Amazon. From the people I've spoken to, the author seems well known but no one recognizes the book. In contrast, almost everyone i talked to at least had heard of All She Was Worth.
     
  8. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Not much to comment, I think. Chapter 6 opens with a blurb of the book the MC is writing, which is also a narrative inside another narrative which has some stuff disappearing, the lighthouse keeper and the cousin. Then we go back to the "real world" and the roses disappear, which brings into question how exactly things disappear in this world and how powerful the memory police or whoever's on charge of disappearances is. Then there's a sad conversation with the boat guy who buys into the disappearances as a good or natural thing. There's some talk of the "good old times" which at times makes me wonder if this might go on some "young people don't appreciate the old ways and are too eager to dismiss them" direction which would be a bit disappointing imo
     
  9. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Don't have much to say other than I really enjoy the contemplative writing, I'd absolutely read the novel-within-the-novel, too. I was under the impression that the MC was able to recall disappeared objects at least partially, but I guess R is the one with the special trait. I'm still looking for allegory so the memory police becoming increasingly brutal makes me think of a disease getting worse. I'm happy about the pace in chapter 10, I was starting to think we'd spend several chapters discussing logistics/building but it all happened in that one. Guess the ferry guy isn't so bad after all either.
     
  10. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    Just wrapped up chapter 12. Overall feelings haven't really changed much

    It's a bit difficult to really get a picture of the island for me because of technology. They talk about trains and fairly modern technology like cellphones and have electricity but at the same time they are very dependent on certain necessities we take for granted. Food being the stand out thing. Despite at the things they do have, they eat potato soup every day and the disappearance of nuts and berries marks a dire situation for winter. Just kind of interesting.
     
  11. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    Just hit the halfway mark, about chapter 16 or so I think. It's starting to pick up quite a bit for me.
     
  12. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Read 10, 11 and 12 since the last update.

    Not much to say. We get R arriving at the house and some day to day living. The tragic loss of photographs and fruits.

    Also, what is it with japanese stories and teacher-student romances?
     
  13. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    I liked the little visit to the Memory Police HQ, good description of an oppressive, opulent environment, the speech from the high-ranking officer that interviews our MC may also reveal something about the police's intentions, seems to be something about culling unnecessary memories, maybe something related to denial or obsession or something, I look forward to learning more about their intentions. Lots of feelings of isolation and lack of connection; losing the old man for a while, the whole description of winter, the stuff about dreams, the girl who gets trapped in a box (unexpected body horror there), the servants who couldn't talk while polishing silver and of course R who seems to be losing physicality due to the isolation he's in. I think it's interesting that our MC is still not really on board with the "keeping your memories is good, actually" thing, she's trying to save R due to her attachment to him but not so much because she believes that he's "right". Feels like she's gonna have to have a breakthrough eventually, she obviously dislikes the Memory Police but doesn't mind losing her memories?

    Also, if it turns out the MC died taking those "sleeping pills" as a child and this is some dying dream I'm rating this 0 stars.
     
  14. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    LOL i had the exact same thought about the sleeping pills

    i don't really mind that mc doesn't care about memories, she does explain that all feelings go with them so it makes sense. I'm more bothered by the lack of names and have no idea why she cares so much about r
     
  15. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    she has a very small social circle and apparently everyone in the town hates books, so I'm not too surprised she'd become attached to her editor :p
     
  16. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    Took a short break, but just finished 17.

    I really don't like the relationship with the mc and r. I spent this whole chapter hoping this wouldn't happen but here we fucking are. Interesting given where the story she's writing is going though. but I don't like it. disappointed in them as characters but also the dialogue is so grating after the police leave.
     
  17. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    I'm at the exact same point.

    the novel-within-the-novel continues being pretty interesting, I like the twist about the teacher and it's interesting to see how what happens to our mc influences her writing. I thought the whole birthday party stuff seemed like a risky affair, down to giving the old man a music box when those are disappeared and the police is so ruthless, but other than that I thought it was a good opportunity to show how grim society has become with the shopping scenes and all. The part with the police inspecting the house was pretty well written too, it felt tense and suspenseful. Still enjoying the book a while lot.
     
  18. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    Look at that coincidence - started today and am stopping at the beginning of 18 for the night.

    Yeah, the book taking that path is my biggest letdown so far. It’s just such a huge cliche, and I was hoping they would keep the relationship platonic and more built around mutual respect and admiration. Oh well.

    I think the novel excerpts and seeing the way the current happenings bleed into the story is maybe what I’m enjoying most about the book. I’m curious to see how the actual events unfold versus the novel events.

    General thoughts:
    So far it’s alright. I don’t love it, but there are enough aspects that I’m enjoying. I think the translation has been handled pretty well, and I like the atmosphere of the book quite a lot. Having the main character be so detached to the central conflict (of sorts) is interesting. I just don’t feel convinced the book is going to bring everything together in a satisfactory ways, but we’ll see. I do thing it does a good job of instilling a sense of dread and gloom as it has unfolded. I hope this book just keeps spiraling down that path at a quicker pace and fucks me right up with a brutal conclusion to be honest.

    Also, one other complaint I have is that the way the erasures are handled feels inconsistent at times. Sometimes it seems like she can recall the erased objects and what these items were called, other times she’s totally clueless. I can’t tell if it’s inconsistencies or just being done for the sake of making the writing more clear to follow.
     
  19. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    Okay, all done now. If you read the above you know I was a bit lukewarm. I liked it well enough but didn’t love it up to 3/5 of the way through. Full book spoilers follow.

    From the moment novels disappear onward is just phenomenal. Easily the best, most gripping writing of any book I’ve read in this book club. Yeah, there are things I could nitpick like the ambiguity around how the disappearances/recalling them is handled. I could pick at how the ending doesn’t really make sense in that he should be grasping at air as her body was still present for him - nor should she be able to describe what he is doing when from her perspective she’s only a voice. But honestly? Who cares. The way the author manages to weave a story that both captures the essence of being trapped in a constantly shifting, oppressive environment AND the nature of loss is outstanding. I couldn’t help but cry as the novel came to a close. It really did just keep spiraling and have a brutal ending as I hoped. Just incredible stuff. 5/5
     
  20. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    I finished a while ago but I guess I should share some thoughts on the ending

    Damn, it's brutal and very hopeless lol. At some point I realized things wouldn't end well for our characters, but it just goes and doesn't stop until it's clear R's hopes and efforts were for nothing and the town was doomed from the start like our MC thought. At some point I started to wonder if the novel-in-a-novel wasn't actually a novel but the reality of what was happening, and the town an allegory for the novel's MC depersonalization and hopelessness after the loss of her voice and imprisonment. The logic gaps in the novel are way less egregious than in the town (specially the last part of the novel being written at all), and the links between what's happening in the novel and what's happening in the town only become more obvious as it continues. There are so many things the novel works as an allegory for, pretty much any hopeless situation like degenerative memory disease, the inevitability of death, depersonalization as a result of unchecked abuse like the one the novel's MC goes through, etc. It was well written through to the end, but damn was that hard to read :(
     
  21. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    That’s an interesting take - I could definitely see that. Mainly because the two are clearly linked, and that link works both ways.
     
  22. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    Alright, finished it up a few hours ago, just got some time to post.

    Hmmmmmm. This one really needs some time to digest for me. I don't know how I feel about it right now. Points that are lingering now, the story vs the story. There's a lot to unpack there as they are basically total mirrors of each other. I'm interested in the instructor vs R. I was kind of thinking at some point the narrative would become disassociated enough the two stories would become indistinguishable. It ends that way in a way still

    The title is strange for me still. I guess at this point "secret crystal" is probably the best but that doesn't really mean anything for me.

    Poignant image for me, though the author was definitely going for it with the massive repetition, but R chucking things into the bottomless swamp that then sink forever producing just bubbles of memories that inevitably pop. Nice and futile image.

    I'm glad there's another week to keep this in mind, looking forward to the live chat on the 2nd.

    If someone can help me with something, I'm trying to find a passage. I have an almost preternatural ability to find passages in English but i can't find anything in Japanese. There's a passage in the end about something like
    wind blowing the grass into a pattern like a mouse eating cheese
    . I feel like the same image is used earlier but that could have just been me flipping around the book and having read the same thing twice. Anyone remember that showing up another time?
     
  23. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Huh, I remember nothing about this.

    I don't know how I feel about the Japanese title. I feel like I would potentially have felt misled and let down by that particular item's importance. The english title plays less with readers expectations, IMO.

    This is in chapter 25, in chapter 22 there's another mention of cheese that may be what you're referring to; R tells a story that includes a cheese factory located in a pasture.