"Your name is Robert Penfold. Age 31. The apartment you’re standing in is your home..."
Imagine standing in front of a door that you don’t recognise with a paper in your hand that tells you who you are. And that this is your home.
Memories. What makes you "you"? And me "me"? Are we just made up of our memories or are we more than that. In losing them, do we lose ourselves?
”Everyone thought it was a one-off thing, maybe a stroke. Then, 179 days later, the forgetting struck again. And then it happened again, another 179 days later.”
Robbie Penfold suffers from a neurological disorder which he has called the forgetting. Just on every six months, his memory is wiped clean. He has no idea who he is or what he does. There don’t appear to be any friends or family at hand to help him in this awful predicament. So Robbie as his present self, writes himself letters and draws maps for his future self to refer to, a set of instructions if you like, to prepare himself for when the next re-set occurs. Which he’ll then be reading what his past self wrote. It’s tough. As between each interval, he tries to rebuild a life by “muscle memory”. There are some things that the body simply doesn’t forget, even if the mind does.
”Memory fluttered, the beat of its wings brushing against the mind’s edge.”
This is such an utterly interesting, though utterly awful predicament. I cannot fathom the abject fear of being in the situation, and waiting for the next round of the forgetting to again appear. As if by clockwork.
Neale - who I buddy read this with - and I had such an interesting time trying to guess what Robbie’s job was before it all slipped through his fingers like water. Neither of us got it right, but we gave it our best shot! This is such an incredible book to read with someone, or as a Bookclub pick, as it asks so many questions that aren’t that easy to answer.
”...starting all over again at day zero. Everything falls. Everything is rebuilding.”
The book starts at Day Twelve and we journey with Robbie to Day Zero, the fateful day when everything begins again. And a lot happens in those twelve days. We learn about Robbie’s project, which he obsesses over day and night, containing ”...eighty three thousand, seven hundred and ninety dominoes...” We get inklings of who he was before this strange condition befell him. We meet Julie. With emerald green eyes, and jet black hair in a pixie cut, who seems to have a magnetic hold over Robbie, though he has no recollection of her whatsoever.
This book is just exquisite. I loved it. As I flew through the chapters and got to Day One, I had to pause. I said to Neale that I simply couldn’t bear to read Day Zero. I was scared to continue. Which of course I had to, and did.
”I’d tell a thousand lies, light a thousand fires, break a thousand laws...what wouldn’t you do?”
I love that the final chapter ends in such a way that you can put your own perspective on it. Perhaps if you read it at different times in your life, you’ll have a different view of what the ending really was.
This is such a quietly powerful book that is definitely under the radar at the moment. I truly hope that many people discover it and read it, as it’s stunning. It holds a special place in my heart. The inside cover says that the author Hugh Breakey is a philosopher, and I guess in a weird kind of way this shows. He certainly takes us on a journey into our hearts and minds, and questions what makes us who we are, and if we’re still that same person if we no longer remember.
A beautiful fall for sure.
”We ran home through the streets and through the rain."
“Read this now. Right now. Don’t even think about going near that door until you know what’s going on.”
The letter is how Robbie copes with the recurring amnesia that he lives with, and a warning, because he has been found by the police before, wandering the streets lost and confused. Every 179 days Robert forgets everything, his brain a hard drive wiped clean. The letter, along with being a set of instructions on how to find his apartment, tells him about his condition, that he has no living relatives. Bad news is there is no cure. Good news is that the condition may not be permanent. So, he lives in hope. Regarding the incident with the police, a letter from his doctor stresses that if it happens again, he will end up in a home for his own safety. He is emphatic, paranoid, not to tell anybody about his condition, retain his independence. He realizes how easy it would be for somebody to manipulate him.
“Keep to yourself to keep your self.” A mantra that he lives by for protection.
“Memories are like armour – without them you have no control, nothing to hold your shape. You’ll become what anybody tells you to be. That’s why you have to be on your guard from the very first moments.”
The narrative structure takes the form of thirteen chapters. Each chapter is a day, starting with Day Twelve and then counting down to Day Zero. These chapters represent the last twelve days Robert has left until he will lose his memories again.
On day twelve a new delivery person delivers his groceries. They are delivered by a young attractive woman. More than attractive, Robert assesses, strikingly beautiful. Robert is instantly attracted to this woman and yet he is vigilant as well, never lowering his defence. Her name is Julie.
Robert is working on a project, which involves dominoes. The purpose of this project is intentionally vague, but Julie offers to help. The more she helps the more Robert realizes he is falling for her, inevitably cracks start to form in his defences, growing as he spends more time with her. And yet the timing could not be worse. In a few days his memory will be wiped, and he will forget her. Telling her about his condition, an option he is not willing to risk.
But does Julie know Robbie? Does Julie have her own agenda? Is Julie the perfect example why Robbie closes himself off to the world?
This is the type of novel that relies on the reader knowing virtually nothing to have the impact it strives for, so I will leave it at that.
Because of his condition, Robert almost feels like three completely different characters. His past self, his present self, and his future self. When he reads messages from his past self, it feels like a different character, and in a way it is. Similarly, when he writes a message to his future self, he is essentially writing to another character.
This novel makes you think deeply about memory. Memories are integral to our survival. Unlike other species we are not born with instincts. We must learn and memorize. But memories are so much more. Don’t our memories make us who we are? Are we not just a collection of memories? Without memories we would just be empty vessels. The author, Hugh Breakey, is a philosopher, and intentionally or not, these are the thoughts that this novel made me contemplate. “Memory” such a vital, amazing function of our brain that we really know nothing about.
This was Nat's pick and what a great pick it was. This is a wonderful book to buddy read simply because there is so much to discover as you count down the days with Robbie. I loved this book giving it 4 Stars, and Nat loved it even more giving it 5. So our buddy read rating for THE BEAUTIFUL FALL is 9 out of 10.