The Memory Police

Yoko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (trans.)

The Memory Police
Vintage Publishing
United Kingdom
18 August 2020

The Memory Police

Yoko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (trans.)

To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed.

When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?


On an isolated island, things are disappearing. Ribbon, hat, bird. One by one, they all disappear, and soon, the inhabitants of the island forget they ever existed at all. The disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police, and those who can remember when they shouldn’t are takenaway. When a young novelist discovers that her editor, R, can illegally remember the forgotten things, she fears for his life and secretes him away beneath the floorboards of her home with the help of her elderly neighbour.

This is an elegant and thoughtful novel, and an interesting approach to dystopian fiction. It’s refreshing to see literature that explores this familiar scene not in the gun-wielding factions or rebellious leaders of other, brasher additions to the genre, but in the quiet moments between neighbours, or simple moments of loss between lovers.

This novel’s strength is in its eerie, quiet prose – one almost feels as if a layer of mist lies between you and the words, and this sensation is very effective in world-building and tone-setting. Readers perhaps unfamiliar with translated fiction, or even Japanese fiction, for that matter, may struggle with the slow pace and perceived lack of direct action, but in a sense, this iswhat makes this novel ‘real’. This is the end of the world as seen through the eyes of the watchers in the windows and the passersby in the street, not the Katniss Everdeens or Theo Farons. It is sometimes frustrating that the rules of the world are unclear, or perhaps just under-explored (things have ‘disappeared’ and the protagonist has no memory of them, but somehow is able to refer to, see and hear them), but that doesn’t stop The Memory Police from being anoriginal and compelling piece of literature.

Georgia Brough is the digital content coordinator for Readings.

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