Review – The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

By | January 27, 2014

The name of your first-born. The face of your lover. Your age. Your address…

What would happen if your memory of these began to fade? Is it possible to rebuild your life? Raise a family? Fall in love again?

When Claire starts to write her Memory Book, she already knows that this scrapbook of mementoes will soon be all her daughters and husband have of her. But how can she hold onto the past when her future is slipping through her fingers…?

Dearest Rose, published by Arrow in September 2012, was one of my favourite reads of last year. If you haven’t already read it, you really must.  Having discovered Rowan Coleman’s writing through that wonderful book – and realising I’d shamefully overlooked nine more – I just couldn’t wait for the release of The Memory Book.  There were a tantalising few chapters at the end of my Kindle version of Woman Walks Into A Bar – 100% of the proceeds of which the author donated to Refuge, the domestic abuse charity – which had me in tears, and the ensuing wait has been really frustrating. So this is – with no apologies – going to be another one of those gushing reviews. This book was all I hoped it would be, and so much more.

Claire has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s bright, attractive, intelligent and witty, recently married to the man of her dreams in gorgeous builder Greg and the loving mother of 20 year old Caitlin and three year old Esther. But everything is slipping away – she’s had to give up her job as an English teacher, she can’t find her way back to her own home, she’s losing the ability to find words or to read to her young daughter, and she’s forgetting how much she loves her husband. Her mother Ruth has moved in to care for her – she knows what to expect, having lost her husband in the same way, and the relationship between her and her daughter is a loving but difficult one.

Greg gives Claire a notebook, where everyone can capture their memories – the book is interspersed with stories told from various perspectives, some funny and some unbearably sad. Claire also adds mementos from her past – the bits and pieces that we all have that capture the key moments in our lives. And against all this – all the immensely sad and very funny memories – there’s another family crisis to deal with.

If all this sounds dark and depressing, I need to dispel that impression straight away. While there is immense sadness here, there’s also a tremendous amount of humour – Claire retains her wit and sense of fun, and her attempts to escape from captivity and her disjointed conversations really have you laughing out loud through all the tears.  This is a book with love on every page – your heart will break for Greg, the man she has forgotten how to love, and there are some quite wonderful moments with her mother and her daughters.
I think I’m a little in love with Rowan Coleman.  She writes quite perfectly, the humour and sadness beautifully balanced – it might only be January, but I have no shadow of doubt that this will be one of my books of the year.  The introduction to my advance reading copy says “perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes” – much as I also love
Jojo’s books, this one will win over an army of new fans for Rowan Coleman.  This book was unadulterated reading pleasure from beginning to end.
When I hopefully get to meet Rowan at Lunch with Rowan Coleman in March, part of the York Literary Festival, I do promise not to gush in an embarrassing way.
My thanks to netgalley and Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for my advance reading e-copy. Everyone else doesn’t have too long to wait. The Memory Book is published by Ebury Press in Kindle and hardback editions on 30th January – the paperback will follow in September.

Rowan Coleman worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years before winning Company Magazine Young Writer of the Year in 2001. Her first novel Growing Up Twice was published in 2002 and was a WHS Fresh Talent winner. Since then Rowan has written ten novels for women including The Accidental Mother, The Baby Group and Dearest Rose, which won The Festival of Romance Best Romantic Read 2012, The RoNA Epic Romance novel of 2013 and was shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013. Rowan now lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, and large family of four children, including surprise toddler twins. Rowan is often quite tired.