|The One Memory of Flora Banks | Emily Barr | Paperback: 303 pages | Published 12 January 2017 by Penguin UK
My rating: ★★★★☆
As there was a fair amount of both positive and negative buzz around this book, and an amnesic protagonist sounded like an intriguing new perspective, I was excited to find out more about Flora Banks (and let’s be honest, the cover was another big selling-point). For the most part I could stay unbiased before reading, only one bookstagrammer lowered my expectations a little by summarising it as ‘boring’.Thankfully, it was far from boring to me. In fact, I could barely put it down. A mysterious prologue hints at the outcome of the story but leaves enough space for you to come up with several theories on what is going to happen. Prepare for numerous plot twists though; these are inevitable with an unreliable narrator like Flora. They surprised me more than I would like to admit and created that nagging feeling of wanting to know the entire truth. But of course, suspense is by far not the only result of being left in the dark.
|“I know not to ask any more. If she told me, I would forget. She has probably told me a million times already. I must be annoying to live with.” p 40|
Right from the beginning, you feel the frustration that Flora’s amnesia causes. As she cannot remember things for longer than a few hours, she has to rely on visual reminders and her notebooks are indispensable. Flora writes the most essential things on her arms, which is one of her little quirks that make her so likeable. It feels like you know her immediately because she regularly has to rediscover who she is, and you are right there with her. Simultaneously, this gave me an entirely new appreciation for memories and made me think about what a big part they are of our identities, how we perceive ourselves and those around us.
|“How can I have forgotten that I have amnesia? How, though, could I possibly remember?” p 43|
Because Flora constantly forgets and has to remind herself of everything that happens, the writing is quite repetitive. I see why a lot of reviewers were annoyed by that style, although it should not come as a surprise. Actually, it felt like a clever way to make Flora’s experience more relatable for the reader and it moved the narrative along by changing words that might not seem significant first, but made a difference in hindsight.
|“I want to make myself feel something so intensely that I will remember it.” p 87|
Another aspect many readers criticised was the romance (this may include spoilers). Flora remembers her first kiss, which is her first memory in six years, so naturally she is going to cling onto it like a lifeline. But it is not only the fact that she remembers – it is how in that moment, Drake made her feel special and normal at the same time. The memory finally makes her a 17 year old. There are definitely problematic parts in the narrative, but it does not feel right to condemn the entire book just because they are featured. If the developments and the ending cannot redeem the story for some readers, that is their completely valid opinion.
For me, Flora’s obsession, while problematic at times, seems like something a lot of teenagers experience during their first crush. Many do not know that love will not solve all their problems and have to learn it first, often enough the hard way. Flora’s illness only amplifies the problems that come with this. The line between promoting and addressing an issue is thin, but I could see the point the author was trying to make. It showed that you can properly screw up and still be fine, as long as you learn from it. I would rather read about someone solving problems that derived from problematic thinking (surprise, we all do it at some point) than someone who is perfect, unrelatable and never generates difficulties themselves.
What I loved was that, despite her unusual situation, Flora still feels approachable. She is a young girl who is trying to make sense of the world, who does not want to tell her parents she kissed a boy, who wants to be independent, who can be sassy, who eavesdrops and keeps secrets. She sings lyrics without knowing she could, she makes a mess and tidies up only last minute, she wants to make her room look more grown-up, she is adventurous and self-aware and you just cannot help rooting for her.
|“The universe would laugh at our attempts to organize it, if it could be bothered to notice them.” p 183|
Apart from her personality and the suspense, the whole composition of aspects made the book very enjoyable: the earless cat side-story, a positive portrayal of mobile phones, Flora’s life rules, the Arctic setting or people like Agi and Toby. Main and side characters get to develop (you know who I mean), there are intelligent thoughts and my new favourite character we definitely did not get enough of (Jake). I had a few issues with how the plot was resolved, as some revelations were kind of unsettling (you just want to shout some sense into a certain woman) and several links did not really add up. Other than that, Flora is still a wonderful character and although the book is complete in itself, I would love to read more about her.