What I’ve been reading….


If you totally lost your memory, and never regained it back, are you (the previous you) dead?

 I have been reading quite a few things lately.
Asymmetry by the Thoraiya Dyer.
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.
The Man Who Forgot His Wife by John O’Farrell.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley.

Asymmetry is a — tantalisingly short — collection of short stories by a talented writer which left me with a strong desire to read any novel written by Dyer in the future. (She recently won an Aurealis Award for a short story.) Keep an eye on her — this lady can write.

Blackbirds is a brutal novel in the urban fantasy genre, lots of blood and gore and an intriguing dilemma for the main (female) character–which kept me glued to the page until I’d finished.

Which brings me to The Man Who Forgot His Wife and The Rook. On the surface, they appear to be very different stories. The first is a literary novel, set in London of the present day, part comedy and part a telling look at a modern marriage. It’s a wonderful read and I highly recommend it. The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, won the best SF novel of 2012 in the recent Aurealis Awards. Although it is arguably a fantasy rather than science fiction, I shan’t quibble over that. In fact, I’ll say that it deserved a win, because it’s a great read. It’s also a book with no real male hero, but with several fabulous female characters and a gamut of extraordinary minor players.

What then do those two books have in common?

They both deal with main characters who have lost their memory.

The character in The Rook is aware from the beginning of that she is going to lose her memory and she will never get it back. The character in The Man Who Forgot His Wife, on the other hand, has a normal chance of regaining his memory, and in fact the story deals with this process. However, it’s not all smooth sailing. His personality — before and after — plays a large role.

I don’t want to say any more about either of the books for fear of spoiling two wonderful plots. If you can, read both books.

They both left me thinking about what we are –- are we more than our memory of our life? If you lose your memory (retaining only your learning and factual knowledge) what is left? Would life still be worth living? What makes personality? What would it be like to know you’re going to lose your memory and never regain it? What would you do if you knew you were going to lose all your memory of your life and the people you’ve loved?

If you totally lost your memory, and never regained it back, are you (the previous you) dead?

What do you think?


What I’ve been reading…. — 4 Comments

  1. What a horrid thought, but I guess you, before you that is, are dead in that circumstance. I think memory loss is a terrible thing, dementia and Alzheimer's for instance. We see so many instances of it these days, maybe we are living too long.

  2. Having seen my mother and my eldest sister fade away with dementia, I agree with Jo – we're probably living too long, possibly with a dementia-inducing lifestyle to boot.

    But when it comes to 'self', I go along with the Buddha's teaching that there is nothing permanent there in the first place, so what fades away? Who dies? We change all the time, along with everything else, so memory loss or no, I am a different person from the one I was at, say, age 7 – or even the one I was yesterday. Looked at in that way, it's obvious that I die and I am recreated, second by millisecond. There is no permanent, ongoing me – only constant change.

    Those two books sound jolly good, though. 🙂

  3. Interesting question! Is it just memories that shapes a personality? If you lost your personal memories, would you still (for instance) have the same political leanings? Could a person who was once a die-hard Liberal voter suddenly become a Labor supporter because they couldn't remember the personal experiences that had informed their political position? Or would you still believe in God — or not — without your personal memories?

    It seems to me you could still be, say, a God-fearing Liberal, or atheist Labor voter, even without personal memories. And such beliefs shape the kind of person you are. Whether or not you like telling jokes, or like to lead an active lifestyle — these, I think, are parts of personality that wouldn't depend on memories.

    Hope I never find out, though!

    I must say, those books sound cool. Must look out for them. I love books about people losing their memories. In fact, I like them so much I'm in the middle of writing one myself …

  4. Sorry about the delay in posting your comments.

    And: Yes, do look out for both books. They really prompted me into all kinds of interesting wondering — as well as being entertaining in themselves.

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