In my novel Monkey See, millions of people are affected by a disease known as RONDS: Rapid Onset Neural Degeneration Syndrome, which has similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease but progresses in a matter of a few months. Recently I have been doing tonnes of research about how memories are formed and processed and retrieved; how they are lost or misplaced. I find anything to do with the workings of the brain fascinating and this research was no exception. It inspired this top 10 of novels and memoirs which explore dementia, collective memory, amnesia, and the relationship between memory and trauma.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The heartbreaking story of a highly successful linguistics professor whose life is devastated by a diagnosis of early-onset dementia. Get the tissues out!
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
The story of an elderly woman descending into dementia, and struggling frantically to recall some vital information about a friend she believes has disappeared.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Best known for The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro’s books are always surprising and daring and this is no exception. Set in post-Arthurian England, it explores the idea of cultural forgetting: is it desirable or even possible for a society consciously ‘forget’ the horrors of the past? I think this is such an important question and I love the way this book handles it through a tale of old love and misty adventure.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
One of my favourite reads of the last few years, a group of scientists go to explore a landscape riddled with strange phenomena, known as Area X. They return, but are not quite themselves, and have only the haziest memories of what took place on the expedition. Creepy!
Fractured by Dawn Barker
New mother Anna is struggling to cope. One day she comes home without her infant son, and with no recollection of where she has been or what might have happened. A riveting fictional exploration of post-natal psychosis.
Memory Palace by Hari Kunzru
A dark vision of a future in which not just books but remembering itself is banned. A small group of renegade memorialists try to preserve their knowledge using the ‘memory palace’ technique.
How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
Marta has always been a good wife. Until she becomes troubled by disturbing visions. Is her mind playing tricks on her? Or is she starting to remember something long repressed? A twisty thriller exploring memory, trauma and identity.
A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball
This strange and fascinating story is set in a world in which people who are so depressed they can’t bear the thought of staying alive are offered a chance to begin again. Their memories are wiped, and they relearn the world and form a new identity. But is this really possible?
A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard
The first book in KOK’s five-volume autobiography, this memoir recounts in extraordinary detail Knausgaard’s troubled relationship with his difficult father, focusing especially on his childhood and teenage years. Though there were parts I found wonderful, there were also parts I found dull, and I would say, overall, not quite worthy of the hype, but I certainly admired the feats of his memory.
Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska
One of my favourite Australian books of all time, this is a daughter’s memories of hr childhood against the backdrop of her mother’s post-natal depression. It’s a beautiful meditation on the nature of memory and on the mother-daughter bond.
Your turn: What are your favourite books about memory?