Ah! Charity Norman. I wanted a book to be hooked on and I knew her latest, Remember Me, would deliver. I’ve read dozens of books over summer and only a few of them have made it to review. The rest, ho hum, won’t hit these pages because they simply didn’t grip me. This blog is meant to be a collection of books I’ve enjoyed! So, thanks Charity, for getting me back on track.
Remember Me is the kind of book you sneak off early to bed to read. I’ve been slowing unwrapping the story layer by layer, thinking I was almost there (but I’m only halfway through the book!) and then intriguingly finding an unexpected outline of the story layers down. I could have guessed. There were clues, nothing hidden. The reality of what I was reading just didn’t occur to me until the end and then it all made perfect and poignant sense. Well crafted.Like all Charity Norman’s books, there’s a main hook that drags you along through a solid and well researched base of lots of overlapping stories.
In Remember Me the person remembered is the neighbour of our narrator, Emily. Leah is an older childhood friend who disappears in the Ruahine ranges, tramping mountains and paths that I know are dangerous places to be lost. The Ruahines are draped across this story in all their moody glory, hanging there in the background, quietly dominating every scene. Lost people are lost and never recovered in the New Zealand mountains. Leah, a research scientist, walks in to study the carnivorous Marchant’s snail on a wet weekend. She says the rain will bring the snails out. In parallel to the lost girl is the story of Emily’s father, the local doctor, who has Alzheimers and slowly going from a proficient chess player, to one Emily can occasionally beat, to one who randomly sets out the pieces on the board and takes them off again like a three-year-old pretending to play. If you’ve known Alzheimers in someone you love, there is a sad recognition here in the slow and swift changes, the panic, the false assumptions, the sort-of amusing but deeply distressing daily fails. “Remember Me” applies to the loss of Emily’s father, too.
The neighbouring family, to my mind, are the heroes of this story. This is farming country, the neighbours in the far distance are moving cows across the paddocks but also at the kitchen table sharing lives, everything intertwined. The girl who disappears was idolised by Emily’s older brother; her brother is Emily’s staunch friend. Emily’s father is the local doctor who helps the family though their dad’s tortuous decline though Huntington’s disease. These are complicated relationships bound together with love and trust, as far as it goes. As Emily’s father slips back into a confusion of old memories, a new version of the past emerges.
I like Emily, who relates her world to us without guile. I’m standing with her as she makes her decisions, misinterprets things (as you do), misjudges people kindly. You never get the feeling you’re being played here. Emily is nicer than I am but I like to think I’d do what she does, in the same way and probably come to the same conclusions.
I’d love to tell you the end, but that would spoil your enjoyment. Very sad, very satisfying. If you’re bored reading a run of books worthy and dull and want to hear a story from a yarn-spinner who knows how to tell ’em, this is your book.