“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.
Hugh Breakey is an award-winning and widely published philosopher. He has previously worked as a kitchen hand, editor, airport construction worker, theatre director, ethics consultant, pinball repairer, disk jockey, tennis-court builder and university lecturer. Hugh lives in rural Australia with his two children and his wife, novelist and New York Times bestseller, Kylie Scott.
MY RATING -