Sweater Weather, Memory Police

Woke up with the Neighbourhood’s Sweater Weather echoing inside my head. I don’t think it goes on a book playlist, but I’m still listening to it as I type. Giving the earworms what they want just like I grant the Muse her little idiosyncrasies, I suppose. Got to keep the engine fueled.

A little later this morning the second of my NaNo posts will drop over on Haggard Feathers; today I’ve wordcount to achieve on Finder’s Watcher, a second assassination attempt in HOOD, and some stuff scheduled for subscription folks on Patreon and Gumroad.

Tomorrow, though, I’m going to take a day off and write what pleases me. It might be Wangsty Dracula, it might be Moon’s Knight, it might be something else. I’ve been going rather at full tilt lately, and realized yesterday I somewhat resented it and need a small break. One must learn to keep the throttle open and also to back off when the needle’s been in the red for too long.

I read Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police last Sunday while waiting for news of a very personal sort; it’s been a long time since I fell wholesale into a novel. I don’t tend to read much fiction nowadays because I’m always looking under the hood at how the writer does certain things, weighing the choices made. In short, I read like an editor, and have retreated into nonfiction because I have to revise my own stuff so much it’s not a vacation to read others’.

The Memory Police reminds me of Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading; there’s the same dreamy, terrifying absurdity lurking between precise words. The translator did a marvelous job, very much as Duras’s translators for Pantheon–which reminds me, I need to read Invitation again, and probably Sailor from Gibraltar as well. It’s that time of year, just as high summer is the only time for The Little Horses of Tarquinia.

Anyway, The Memory Police is set on an island where things… disappear. Once they’re gone, any lone items that fall through the cracks must be burned or otherwise disposed of. That is, if you don’t want the Memory Police of the title, well-dressed even when the rest of the island is starving, to come to your door and drag you away to a fate nobody quite knows the specifics of.

Only one person–the old man–returns from the clutches of the Memory Police, and the understated horror of what was done to him while they had him is one of the most chilling parts of an already terrifying book.

The narrator is a novelist, and she decides to hide her editor in a secret room. Why? Because he can remember the things that have been “disappeared”, and even though the narrator can’t, she’s impelled to save what reminders she can steal. Your heart, the editor tells her and the old man, is doing everything it can to preserve its existence.

That particular line hit me so hard I had to text it to a friend and email it to my writing partner. And put it on a Post-it, added to the crop on my desktop.

One of the glories of this book is that, like Invitation to a Beheading, it can be read as a parable for totalitarianism or authoritarianism, the pressure to conform even in free societies, the tyranny of time itself, the erosion of memory, gendered violence, or or or. It holds a truth deeper than its prosaic thought experiment plot synopsis, and I swallowed it all on a winter afternoon, my heart in my mouth and my fingers almost sweating with tension. It’s beautifully done, and I recommend it.

And now I’ve the dogs to walk, a run to get in, and a whole crop of work to get in before tomorrow’s planned hooky. At least it’s raining a bit this morning, which bodes well for the rest of the day. I am told some people have snow, but here among the cedars and mushrooms that’s not usual. Just the rain, in its many forms, falling like a gift on weary, sleeping earth.

Over and out.