Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

My Name is Memory (2010) (Hodder & Stoughton)
Ann Brashares
Grade: A-
Genre: YA romance
Sex scenes: fade out
Source: library

Re-incarnation can be boiled down pretty simply to the idea that when you die, you get born again in a new body. Daniel is pretty familiar with the concept: he's only done it dozens of times, again and again for the single purpose of finding the girl he loves - Sophia.

Daniel isn't your average re-incarnate. Unlike 99.9%* of the population, he has the unique ability to remember every single one of his past lives. Not only that, but he can recognise souls: people who were part of his past lives, which is how he manages to find Sophia every time. The names 'Daniel' and 'Sophia' are their names from their very first lives when they met and though they've changed time and time again, Daniel hangs onto the comfort of their familiarity. He's been filthily rich and dirt poor across several continents; some lives were substantially shorter than others but not in a single one of them has he managed to get Sophia (on the times he's managed to find her) to remember her past lives with him so they can have their happy ending.

In present day, Sophia’s name is Lucy. Daniel had joined Lucy’s high school late and built up a reputation for being something of a loner. Despite never actually gaining the courage to speak to him let alone ask him out, Lucy was deeply infatuated with Daniel. At their prom, Lucy had taken extra effort on her appearance on the off chance that he would attend: he did. The two end up alone in a classroom and for their first time in the several years that they've known each other, have a proper conversation. Daniel tells Lucy of their past lives, thinking that she’s ready to hear it, but it's too much for Lucy and she's scared off.

Fast-forward a couple of years and Lucy is at college. After a visit with a fortune teller, Lucy is pretty freaked out. The woman referred to things discussed during Lucy’s heart-to-heart with Daniel that Lucy has never mentioned to a soul. It’s been a long time since that fateful prom night, but Lucy finally begins to take the pictures that Daniel had drawn of their past lives seriously. As she conducts her research – travelling to England in the process – facts begin to fall in place and Lucy can no longer deny that Daniel was telling the truth.

No one has seen Daniel in years and on speaking to a few old school-friends, Lucy learns that he jumped off a bridge into a river one evening. If Lucy can accept that she and Daniel had met before in their past lives and he can remember them all, then she can pretty much believe anything. When a guy she’s never seen before approaches her and tells her that Daniel’s soul ‘jumped’ into this body when the old Daniel jumped off the bridge, it doesn’t seem like much of a leap for Lucy to take given what she already knows and she pretty much accepts it. But this isn’t Daniel and his imitator is far from having Lucy’s best interests in mind …

Ann Brashares' Sisterhood books were hugely influential during my teenage years and I still love them now. She's one of those authors who always has the right words to pierce your heart and leave you not wanting it to end. My Name is Memory is a sad story and really quite depressing at times, but if you take a step back and think about exactly what Daniel has been doing for thousands of years, it’s not a story of loss and despair, but one of hope and optimism. There might not be the perfect ending with bells and whistles attached, but the book leaves its mark on you and is one that you will never forget.

The book jumps a lot between current day (from 2004 to 2009) and some of Daniel and Sophia's past lives. (The table of contents on Shelfari shows just how often we move time and place). We don't see nearly all of the past lives and the ones that we do see are all through Daniel's perspective as he's the only one who remembers. Each flashback has varying degrees of importance and there are times and places that we revisit more than once. Of greatest importance are the 770s where Sophia is married to Daniel's brother, and Hastonbury Hall, England in 1918 during the war. It was these times where the two came closest to being together, but they never did, hence the reason why Daniel is still going in the twenty-first century. It’s fascinating how the flashbacks tie in with modern day and how Lucy is so similar to herself in past lives, yet so infuriatingly different. While the various past lives weren’t confusing as such, I did find my brain mostly merging the past lives together except for the two of particular importance mentioned above. Yes, they’re important in the overall scheme of things otherwise they would have been edited out, but as a whole, they only serve as a reminder that Daniel failed and it is the present that we need to focus on.

This book breaks my heart. Daniel is amazing and the most patient and loving guy ever - he's been pursuing Sophia for over one thousand years, over continents, through cultures and languages as society has developed and evolved to how we know it today. This is not a guy who gives up easily. Another guy might stop thinking that fate is determined that they not be together, but not Daniel. The number of times they've got so close only for something terrible to happen which splits them apart is tragic and I can't believe how many times that Sophia is actually married to someone else. There aren’t many books where I root for the hero over the heroine, but My Name is Memory is one of them – sometimes I just wanted to clobber Sophia over the head for her complete stupidity.

It was only when I finished this book that I realised that it reminds me a lot of Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid series. That's possibly a humongous spoiler if you haven't finished/read the series, so I'm not going to explain any further about how they're similar. I guess the major difference is that Ann Brashares manages to fit the same idea into one book that Richelle Mead has spread over six. Both authors tell their story brilliantly. I've mostly grown out of my paranormal romance/urban fantasy phase, but the Succubus books are a gem. Georgina is a very relatable character despite being a centuries old succubus and the books are hilarious. Brashares, on the other hand, doesn't really do funny like Richelle Mead; poignancy is her forte and she's a master at it. Her prose is a work of art and in each of the six books I’ve read by her, there’s been countless times when I wish I had been the one to come up with that particular piece of phrasing or description. My Name is Memory is one of those books that you wish that you’d written yourself – in my opinion, the highest form of praise that you can give to an author.

There's also an element of Good Morning Lucy (later known as Fifty First Dates) about My Name is Memory. This is only a thought that has recently occurred to me (I read this book back in April) and I’m still not quite sure about how I feel about having made the link. It’s not my favourite of films and I don’t like Adam Sandler films in general. Both Good Morning Lucy and My Name is Memory revolve around a guy who has to continuously convince the woman he loves that she’s always loved him, but for some reason, has forgotten this. Good Morning Lucy is a sweet ninety-nine minute rom-com with a HEA, but there’s nothing remotely amusing about what Daniel has to go through, which is one of the reasons why I’m not comfortable with the link I made between the two. My Name is Memory is the better of the two stories.

So to sum up: I love this book. I’m not sure if I could bring myself to read it again from start to finish because of how painful it is, but I’ll try again someday. I heard something about a sequel, but I’m not sure if that’s an official in-the-works statement or just wishful thinking by readers. To be honest, I don’t want one. The ending was one in which I wanted to hurl the book against the wall because of its horrendous ambiguity, but now that I’ve had the chance to reflect on it in light of the chance for a possible sequel, I’ve realised that it’s really for the best that it was written that way to leave the reader wondering. Ms Brashares left us with just the right amount of mystery about what has happened to Daniel, hope that everything will turn out for the best and satisfaction that for once, Daniel and Sophia have actually made it further than ever before. A sequel would most probably ruin that little advance that we have made, and I don’t think I could bear any more heartbreak. Some things are best left as they are.

*I can’t remember the exact statistic. I’m sure one was mentioned.

Image courtesy of bookdepository

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