The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder) - review by Martha Sprackland

Martha Sprackland

Out on a Limb

The Memory Police


Harvill Secker 274pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

By the time the islanders notice the ‘disappearance’ of their left legs, they have become accustomed to the process. Many things have been lost in the same manner on their island ‘full of holes’: hats, emeralds, birds, photographs, the ferry on which they had, in years past, travelled to and from the now-inaccessible mainland. What happens is less a disappearance than an estrangement: the townspeople wake to a feeling, a premonition of change, as the memory of something drains away, along with the word for it. The result is a compulsive discomfort that is alleviated only by purging the thing.

When the perfume was lost, the process had been simple: each vial of scent was opened and poured into the river, which reeked for days. Years later, when roses vanished, the inhabitants followed a similar path: anyone who grew them was to be found wrenching the petals from the blooms and scattering them into the water, to be washed out to sea and away from the reach of remembering. Anyone discovered hoarding perfume, birds, hats or roses – even the memories of these items – risks arrest by the Memory Police, indistinct figures who enforce this mass forgetting. It is unclear how and when this process began, though the living seem able, just, to recall its onset.

Things are more complicated, though, in the case of a leg. At first the people are alarmed, emerging unsteadily from their houses, their uncompliant legs throwing them off balance so that they have to hold on to walls or fences. In a functional sense the legs remain intact, joined

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