Ogawa exploits the psychological complexity of this bizarre situation to impressive effect, overlaying its natural tension with sexual ambiguity and a sense that the lines between safety and captivity are being blurred. Interspersed with the narrator’s account of the difficulties of keeping her clandestine housemate hidden, fed, watered and entertained are excerpts from her own novel, which appears to be swinging wildly into a terrifying story of Bluebeard-style abduction: “I had imagined that the two of them, bound by a warmer and more ordinary affection, would wander off to search for her voice at a typewriter factory or in a lighthouse at the end of a cape or in a morgue or in the storage room of a stationer’s, but somehow things had ended up like this.”
‘I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first — among all the things that have vanished from the island,’ reflects the narrator. As a child, she would sit in the riverside studio belonging to her mother, a sculptor, examining objects that no longer existed: a bell, a ribbon, a perfume bottle. Yet she has no memory of them, and she will learn that to remember can be fatal.
Ogawa’s elegant, haunting novel comes with an urgent message: ‘Important things remain important, no matter how much the world changes.’
As unsettling now as it was when it was first published twenty-five years ago, The Memory Police is both a deeply political novel and a meditation on dying. An act of resistance, it asks us not only to heed its warnings about propaganda and authoritarianism, collusion and silence, but also to strive to keep close those things authentically valuable in life.
The Memory Police is a masterpiece: a deep pool that can be experienced as fable or allegory, warning and illumination. It is a novel that makes us see differently, opening up its ideas in inconspicuous ways, knowing that all moments of understanding and grace are fleeting. It is political and human, it makes no promises. It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision.