Page count: 192 | Published: 2018 | Rating: 3 stars!
MEM is a rare novel, a small book carrying very big ideas, the kind of story that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it.
Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source ― zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept.
And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault. What happens next is a gorgeously rendered, heart-breaking novel in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
Debut novelist Bethany Morrow has created an allegory for our own time, exploring profound questions of ownership, and how they relate to identity, memory and history, all in the shadows of Montreal’s now forgotten slave trade.
Whilst Mem is a very well written novel(la), it didn’t quite meet my expectations. The synopsis lured me in – set in 1920s Montreal; the elite are able to have their unpleasant memories extracted into cloned versions of themselves. Delores Extract No. 1 (aka Elsie) is the first and only ‘Mem’ capable of creating her own memories. Due to her unique state she is allowed to live somewhat independently, until (20 years later) she is suddenly recalled back to the ‘Vault’ that houses the other mems.
I incorrectly assumed that this book would be a psychological thriller with the ‘mems’ becoming autonomous beings, revolting (a la ‘Westworld’), breaking out of the vault and causing chaos. Had the plot aligned with my expectations I probably would have loved Mem; instead it was a really slow paced examination of Elsie’s autonomy and the realisation that she wasn’t (unlike the other mem’s) a possession, with a whiff of a love story added for good measure. I found it hard to follow in parts – particularly when discussions/scenes centred on Elise and her ‘source’ Delores – I’d start off thinking that Elise was the focus/narrator only to realise it was actually Delores (and vice versa), leaving me pretty confused.
Plot disappointment aside, Morrow writes beautifully – so whilst I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this book I will look out for her future projects.