I have always been fascinated by the human memory – its capacity, its acuity, its connections to emotions and our basic senses. Somehow the blob of gray gunk in my skull manages to recall everything from the statute of frauds I memorised in law school to the lyrics of pretty much any new wave single released in the 1980s. It’s the reason one whiff of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne takes me right back to a gropey nightmare in the cab of a pickup truck with the high school quarterback.
But despite memory’s remarkable breadth and depth, we also know that it is fallible. Fragile. Even manipulable. Cognitive research has proved, for example, that eyewitness memory is far more confident and far less accurate than we instinctively believe. If we can’t believe our own memories, how can we trust ourselves? Memory is also reversible, and what we have forgotten is often as telling as what we recall.
In my new book, The Girl She Was (entitled Find Me in the US), Hope Miller has lost not just some of her memories but all of them, after she was found thrown from an overturned SUV. The doctors initially thought she would regain her memories within days or weeks, but 15 years later, she has built a path forward in the small town where she was found, under a name of her own choosing. But what if the foundation on which her new life was built is a fraud? When Hope suddenly vanishes, the search for her entails a hunt for whatever memories she may have been running from.
Failing memory provides infinite stories, both fictional and factual, classic and new. Here are some of my favourites.
1. Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson
It’s no surprise that Watson’s debut thriller took the books world by storm when it was released in 2011. We all covet sleep, but what if every time you slept, your memory was erased? Christine is in this unenviable position. Even worse, the person she relies on to reorient her daily routine might not be trustworthy.
2. Under My Skin by Lisa Unger
A year after the unsolved murder of her husband Jack, a grieving Poppy is playing with a serious cocktail of sleep deprivation, pills, and alcohol abuse. Between the nightmares and blackouts, she can’t remember entire blocks of time, and what she can remember might be real or wholly imagined. As she draws closer to the truth about her husband, her grip on reality only gets more tenuous, and now there’s a stranger lingering on the periphery of her life. Or is there?
3. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
From what Alice Love can remember, she’s not yet 30 years old, married to the love of her life, expecting their first child … until she wakes up on a gym floor and lands in the hospital only to learn that she’s a 39-year old mother of …….