Completely out of character for me, I read yet another dystopian novel this month and while I enjoyed it enough, it was definitely an unsettling story.
Ogawa Yoko’s latest novel, The Memory Police, is about a small, unnamed island that is controlled by a strange regime from nowhere called the Memory Police. The police control what is and isn’t allowed the exist on the island, meaning when something has been “disappeared” not only does the thing itself vanish from the island but all memories and emotional attaches to said thing vanish too. Anyone who is capable of remembering what has vanished is taken away by the police, and as more and more things begin to disappear, the nameless narrator struggles with a terrifying thought: what if things never stop disappearing?
This novel takes it’s time, the slow and easy pace really making you feel like things are okay. It is very much a false sense of security that shows how oppressive and yet normalized high-surveillance states are – everyone on the island is nervous around the Memory Police, but everyone also has a firm “I’m not doing anything wrong, so there is nothing to worry about” mentality. The concept of things just vanishing is also terrifying. It isn’t just little things, but it includes food and animals as well. As the story progresses and the stakes rise while our narrator is hiding her friend, R, the horrific concept really gets dark: what if words disappear? The censorship in media that’s heavily implied through that idea is horrifying and I love how intense the metaphor is.
Much like some of my favourite Japanese horror films, this book is quiet until the last few chapters when everything is happening to an overwhelming degree. It’s an ending that can’t be described without huge spoilers, but it gets really twisted really quickly. I got very uncomfortable and finishing it was a struggle but I do plan on re-reading it when the world isn’t entirely on fire. Do I recommend reading this book? Absolutely. But maybe wait a few months.