The Amnesiac: A review

'..memory itself is a fiction: we are, second by second, in every moment of reflection, self-editing, reinventing, making ourselves up..' writes Sam Taylor in the disclaimer to 'The Amnesiac'.
I picked this book on a whimsy. I was wandering through the aisles of the British Council Library in Connaugt Place, looking for a friendly name. I do not know a lot of British authors, I realized. The back cover had rave reviews. But then, every publication has to print all the praise it can gather to increase sales. Nevertheless, I brought it home. The cover said it was the journey of an amnesiac into his past: images from 'Ghajini' and 'Memento' flashed through my mind. I decided I could do with some mystery.
And mystery, it delivered.
The first fifty pages didn't impress me at all. The protagonist, James Purdew, breaks his ankle and is then dumped by his live-in partner after having spent weeks in useless isolation, thinking up the most abstract things. What a loser, I say to myself. He can't even pay the rent.
It was after his girlfriend had vacated their apartment that he shows the first signs of human emotion and embarks on a mission to reclaim himself. This, he begins by reading through the diaries he had kept through the years. This is where it gets interesting. James Purdew does not remember anything about his three years in University. The diaries he kept of that time are locked in a safe and he has lost the key. Taylor makes it clear here that these three years were the definitive years of his life. They contained the key to his present state and personality.

This is where I put down the book, gaze into nothingness and wonder. What if something like this ever happens to me? We take memory for granted. We do not realize how utterly lost we would be without it. My emotions, opinions and general behaviour towards anything/anyone is based on my past experiences- memories. Imagine a scenario where you just can't decide how to react to a particular thing/person from your past. Worse, imagine a scenario where your body finds a way of reaction, but your mind just cannot figure it out.
It is now that my opinion of the character changes. I feel sympathetic towards him. I also begin to admire his courage for going back to try and reclaim the lost years. I feel a little apprehensive for him too- what if the past held a secret so terrible that it would break him? What if he had deliberately, consciously erased those years?

Undaunted, Purdew moves to the city he went to University in and starts putting the pieces together.But, no, this is not what the books is about. Within a span of a hundred and fifty pages, Taylor has turned this book into a murder mystery where our amnesiac, Purdew, plays detective. Throw in a student suicide, flashbacks of a beautiful dark-haired girl and a crazy neuroscientist/pyschologist and we have a page-turner.
The thing I liked the most about this book is that it relates so much to my sense of being. Taylor's characters, plot, setting- all seem too real. Reading this book was equivalent to watching a Christopher Nolan movie, if mindfuck is what we're talking about. There are even mysterious looking green pills, hallucinations and suspected time-travel.

Talking of movies, combine 'Fight Club', 'Memento' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and you might be able to get a grip on what this book is all about. But, then, Purdew is too real to be just a movie character or a fiction book person.
James Purdew is a person with a terrible past and a terrible memory of that past. Other than that, James Purdew could be anyone. He could be me or you.

The book is written in a clever and fresh style. You would feel like you've cracked the great mystery many times while reading through the memoirs. But, unless you really are Sherlock, be ready for a surprise.
Until then, I'm sitting down to fill a notebook with whatever my memory serves me up with.

'What changes is not the color of the canal, but the perspective of the person who looks at it.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Words are always welcome.
Appreciative or critical- I'm waiting to hear from you.