(Reviewed by Guy Savage JUL 31, 2008)
“He was surprised by how well he knew the house, how perfectly it fitted the hole in his memory. It was almost as if he had lived here. But could that be true? He closed his eyes and tried to think back, but there was a blank, a hole, that made him reel when he got too close. With relief, James gave up trying to remember. And then, as if to prove that it was still functioning, his memory flashed up a fragment of information that he had once heard or read somewhere: that the metaphor Freud had used to describe memories was objects placed in the rooms of a house.”
Memories are the most peculiar things. We define ourselves by what we remember and our interpretation of events. But what if we suddenly realized one day that our memories included a void--a period of time for which we could recall nothing whatsoever. Would we be troubled? Would we seek answers for that dark period, and would we like the answers we found? This is exactly the dilemma facing a young British man, James Purdew in Sam Taylor’s novel The Amnesiac. James is living in Amsterdam with his girlfriend Ingrid, when returning home one lunch hour, he experiences a flash of memory “a series of quick hazy images” just as he hears the phone ringing in his apartment. Dashing to answer it, he stumbles and falls, breaking a bone in his ankle. From this moment on, James’s life begins to change.
Plagued with flashes of memory he cannot place, James gradually realizes that there’s a gap in his memory, and that a three-year period in his life is a void. Although James has kept journals, the journals for these three years are missing. The vague uneasiness James feels grows as his relationship with Ingrid disintegrates. When Ingrid moves away, James decides to move back to England and solve the mystery of his past.
James returns to the town of H. where he attended university in the hopes that he can somehow reconnect with his past. At first, his surroundings seem unfamiliar, but as he enters the city, he feels “that unmistakable sensation of déjà vu.” Wandering around town, James experiences an almost violent, visceral reaction to a house he passes. Later, needing a place to stay, James applies for a job renovating a house, and it so happens that this is the house that provoked some deeply disturbing memories.
Working in the house that somehow links James to his past, he uncovers an unfinished manuscript hidden behind the wallpaper. Although the manuscript seems to offer some clues to his past, it also opens up other possibilities. While James tries to piece together fragmented memories of his past, he puzzles through other clues. Part detective novel, part surreal exploration of the nature and complexities of memory, The Amnesiac from novelist Sam Taylor is an intriguing, hypnotic and unusual mystery novel. In creating a Hermeneutic Circle, the author draws the reader in to the puzzles of this esoteric, erudite novel. While the novel seems to leave some questions deliberately unanswered, James’s journey into the past and into his memory is both fascinating and beguiling.
- Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Republic of Trees (2005)
- The Amnesiac (2007; June 2008 in US)
- The Island at the end of the World (2009)
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- Official website for Sam Taylor
- MostlyFiction.com interview with Sam Taylor
- Connecting with Culture review of The Republic of Trees
- The New York Sun review of The Amnesiac
- Material Witness review of The Amnesiac
- Telegraph.co.uk review of The Amnesiac
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About the Author:
Sam Taylor was born in 1970 and grew up in Nottinghamshire. After going to university in Hull and North Carolina, where he read American Studies and wrote a dissertation on Bruce Springsteen and the American Dream, his plan was to travel around southern Europe and write a novel. Instead he accidentally became a journalist for The Observer, where he wrote and edited for eight years. In 2001 he quit his job and moved, with his wife and young children, to rural southwest France, near the Pyrénées. He is now a full-time writer.