If there is a memory that haunts you, do you wish that it could be erased ? If we choose to delete memories that we cannot live with, what will become of us ? Given a chance to restore the deleted memory, would you want it ? Are we not the sum of all our experiences?
Our memories are the memories of what we remember from the past. When I remember some happenings from the past, I am aware that it is a memory of what I remember from the past. It may not be all that accurate but it is what I choose to remember. In order to move on, the optimist in me is inclined to let the bad experiences slide and not dwell on them and tell myself it is what it is, sometimes things happen and there are no answers. Over the years, I have learnt that bad moments pass just as the good ones. When we succeed in doing something, it merely reminds us that we can do it and nothing more. When we land ourselves in some situation that we think we could have avoided if we had thought it through , we do not have to beat ourselves about it. We must be kind to ourselves just as we must be kind to others, What is done cannot be undone, we cannot reverse the past hence we can only keep going. As I age, I know I am still not getting wiser but it is okay. As trite as it sounds, life is work in progress.
Tell me an Ending , a debut by Jo Harkin is a thought- provoking science fiction that is premised on the theme : What happens if something had happened and you could not possibly live with it? Imagine there were this clinic called ‘ Nepenthe where the doctors could administer a procedure that would erase the unwanted memory, would you sign up for it ?
Nepenthe has two types of clients: self-informed and self-confidential. The former knows that they had the deletion procedure but not the latter, that is to say, they choose to erase the act of memory deletion.
In Tell Me an Ending a debut by Jo Harkin, there are four characters who have had gone through such a procedure at Nepenthe .
At the clinic, Noor, a psychologist will assess the mental wellbeing of the client after the deletion procedure. However there is no assessment if you choose to delete the memory of the Nepenthe procedure.
Oscar Levy does not know who he is, he keeps running and he has loads of money to allow him to flee from destination to another but he has no idea what he is running from. He knows that someone is following him so he thinks that he must have done something bad in the past because he keeps having a scratch memory of him holding a gun. He runs from Budapest to Marrakech and finally he is brought back to Heathrow. A driver picks him up and sends him to the clinic.
Oscar turns out to be one of the clients whose removal procedure has been successful but there are adverse consequences. When he was twenty-one years old, he had volunteered himself for the clinical trial to remove part of his memory. The memory that he has erased is to do with his parents’ tragic road accident resulting in their deaths before his eyes when he was a young kid. After he has had his memory deletion, Oscar can’t remember anything at all before he was about sixteen, but he starts having traces of memories of being seventeen and hanging out at his friend’s house. He was at a boarding house for rich kids.
Sixteen-year-old Mei is experiencing traces of a memory. The first of Mei’s memory traces came to her a month ago when she was having scrambled egg on toast for breakfast and the second time was in the shower a week later. She is now with her dad in Kuala Lumpur. She has a trace of a place and she wonders where that is. The traces repeat but they do not develop into anything. Then one of her apps suggests that Katya, someone she has deleted, is a friend. Katya’s profile picutre shows her beside their other friend Sophia and a shoulder that Mei is sure is her own, with a sunny park in the background. She contacts Katya who cannot believe that Mei has no memory of their trip to Amsterdam.
William used to be a police officer. He is suffering from PTSD. He has traces of a memory of an accident involving a young person’s death. As a police officer he would not be allowed to get memory wipes of cases he had personally worked on. But the memory that has been deleted does not fall into any of those categories. William and Annetta has been seeing Marian Dunlop a therapist who talks to them about Nepenthe.
Marian Dunlop says to Annetta.
‘Nobody really remembers events accurately. Even in a wider sense : we tell a story of ourselves, and edit our memories so they fit that narrative. If the story we decide to tell changes, the memories change, We see memory as creating the self, but the self that’s created looks back and changes the memory.’
Finn is married to Mirande. Every now and then he has flashes to a memory about his wife and David who is a surgeon. and a friend of theirs. He thinks David is not just a friend to Mirande. He thinks Mirande has a memory erasure.
The story is narrated through the stories of these four characters and the psychologist, Dr Noor Ali.
After experiencing traces of a memory , some of the former clients of Nepenthe claiming to be self-confidential sue Nepenthe and the court has ordered that their clients must be offered the opportunity to restore deleted memories. Doctor Louise, who has full knowledge what these clients have deleted try to contact clients like William not to restore the memory that he has deleted. Louise is against restoration of a deleted memory.
Nepenthe has a regional clinic in Crowshill, outside London. The design of the facility looks sci-fi good. When Dr Louise interviews Dr Noor Ali why she wants to join Nepenthe, the latter says :
‘We’re all coded, we’re all running programs. The goal is simplicity, elegance, orderly cooperation, to produce an effective and bug-free whole. Obviously the human brain is more of a challenge. When you don’t know the operating rules, problems seem impossible to fix. But they aren’t. To understand the underlying system, the rules, like Nepenthe does, and then use them to fix a , a malfunction, in this case a PTSD response – that’s just a ….beautiful concept. Actually I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than that.
You didn’t mention morality, Louise said.
Well, no, Noor said. Health ,function – those aren’t moral matters. It ‘s not a moral matter when a program isn’t working. It’s a practical one.’
Louise has told Noor that Do No Harm is an impossibility. Her ethos is Do Least Harm.
Before Noor started working at Nepenthe a decade ago , she looked up the meaning of Nepenthe, she discovered that the word came from Odyssey.
‘There was a magical potion called nepenthes pharmakon, a drug to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill. Helen of Troy got hold of some of it. She used to spike the drinks of veterans of the Trojan War – which she technically started, so it made sense that she’d want people to forget about it. ‘
Tell Me an Ending is a meditation on what makes us humans.
It asks the question : What will we become of us if and when our experiences are taken away from us? How much our experiences define us?
Tell Me an Ending is 525 pages long and it had taken me a month to read it and it had been a busy month for me. Glad to have finished it. The premise of the cautionary tale is thought-provoking and it is an enquiry into what lies in our human mind and if our mind is what being human means. Our mind is fragile and I do not think our mind is all that reliable with all the thoughts that run through it. Its author Jo Harkin had done research when she was writing the book and found that the science referred in her book is real. She concludes that Memory isn’t written in stone: it’s more like a photocopy of a photocopy. In her article in Irish Times , Harkin writes that ‘memories are mutating all the time: merging with other memories, losing parts, gaining new elements, disappearing altogether‘.
I do believe that we do alter our memories to be able to live with them. Everything is a perception and our mind is too fluid to be reliable.
3 thoughts on “What do you remember”
Fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation. I do like a good sci-fi and will look into it when I’m looking for more books to read!
HI Lani, Thanks for reading the post and leaving a comment. Tell Me an Ending is thought-provoking. I like the title of your blog : Life, the Universe and Lani. Glad to be acquainted with another avid reader.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, you too, and thanks, my hubby came up with the blog name 😛
LikeLiked by 1 person