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Book Review: Dive into your memory in “Tell Me an Ending”

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” gets a modern update with a “Black Mirror” twist in Jo Harkin’s debut speculative novel, “Tell Me an Ending.” This isn’t the first novel of its kind on the market. Still, it explores the most exciting question: “who are we, if not memories?”

A worldwide notification sends thousands of people into shock–a message claiming they once chose to have a memory removed by the leading memory company Nepenthe. Per a lawsuit, each patient is allowed to reverse the procedure and regain the memory previously released.

We follow a cast of 5 wildly different characters through their daily lives and their relationship to memory. Mei, a struggling college dropout in Kuala Lumpur, dreams of a city she’s never visited. A former British police officer, William regularly attends therapy but can’t remember the profoundly traumatic event that sent him there. Finn, an Irish architect, suspects his wife is having an affair she can’t remember. Oscar, a charismatic young man, wanders the world with no memories–running away from something or someone he doesn’t know. Noor, a psychologist at Nepenthe, grows suspicious of the memory removal process and risks her career to uncover the secrets woven into the company's foundation.

I’m a fan of flip-flopping narratives that connect later on. Still, only a few of the characters are loosely connected. This weak narrative never pushed the characters toward anything–no purpose, theme, or development was at the end of the tunnel. Their inner thoughts and existential dilemmas of the suppressed memories are exciting and sparingly incorporate philosophical musings about the self and identity. Still, the weak narrative drags the novel along.

Philosophical musings can often feel too high-brow for the average reader (and are usually the bane of my existence). Harkin lovingly weaves philosophy into each character’s lives–forcing readers to face their own morality and ponder their existence. Grief, guilt, trauma, memory, and identity are explored in an impressive and melancholic light throughout the novel.

With all of the musings and weak narratives, the ending felt unfinished and disappointingly anti-climatic “Tell Me an Ending.” The concept was reminiscent of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Still, it lacked the finesse and pacing that makes it a masterpiece.

Compelling and evocative, “Tell Me an Ending” slowly ponders who we are and the morals of memory. Although not quite hitting the mark, Harkin’s style and philosophical musings force readers to explore their own existence and memory.

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