This was a Net Galley book I received before Christmas which launched on Thursday (12th January).
The original blurb I saw was:
You always remember your first kiss.
Flora remembers nothing else…
“I look at my hands. One of them says ‘Flora, be brave’. I am Flora.”
Flora has anterograde amnesia. She can’t remember anything day-to-day: the joke her friend made, the instructions her parents gave her, how old she is.
Then she kisses someone she shouldn’t have kissed – and the next day she remembers it. The first time she’s remembered anything since she was ten.
But the boy is gone.
Desperate to hold onto the memory, she sets off to the Arctic to find him.
Why can she remember Drake? Could he be the key to everything else she’s forgotten?
The current blurb on Goodreads is longer, more detailed, and nowhere near as gripping, to me at any rate. Although I do remember something about her parents keeping a secret from her, or some reason for not trusting her parents, in the original blurb I saw. Anyway, that’s gone. This is what Goodreads blurb says:
Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.
With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.
Flora’s narration of her story is in parts charming, confusing, irritating, and downright scary. She seems to be a charming young lady, an innocent, who is constantly surprised and confused by what you and I would find normal – including her appearance. Well, no, her appearance is a little bizarre. She dresses unlike a seventeen year-old and doesn’t do what most seventeen year-olds do in their spare time. Although she is at her friend’s party, and like many seventeen year olds, she’s thinking about boys. The blurb gives you a good idea of what happens next, including eventually setting off for an island in the Arctic.
The trouble with the narrative is that it is highly repetitive. Flora has to go through her notes every morning (and sometimes after a nap) to remind herself who she is, where she lives, who her parents are, and just about everything that belongs to her current life. There is a certain poetry about this; it reads like a mantra. It invokes your empathy, and once she gets up to doing odd things, it is a bitter-sweet amusement, too. But around 25% in, it starts to pall. I’m not the only person who hit the wall around then, judging from other people’s reviews. If, like me, you have by then forgotten the blurb, you may forget that you were also drawn in by the stupidity of going to the Arctic.
For me, that was part of the draw. Someone was writing about Svalbard!! And it is not easy to get to Svalbard when you are a relatively fully functional adult with control of your money and passport, and a travel company to arrange the trickier bits. And Flora arrives at Longyearbyen in her jeans and trainers, and a faux fur coat that she got from the charity shop, and I’m thinking ‘My goodness, she’ll freeze! I hope to heck it’s June or July.’ Well, happily it was. And going to Svalbard is a stroke of genius by the author, because it is the one place in the world I am relaxed about Flora not being a victim of something really horrible that you’d get in cities all over the world. It’s the best place for an innocent to go, and the author describes it exactly as I remember it – but with more light, since I was there in March (check out the post).
And that’s where the truth starts to come out. Flora’s behaviour and memory get increasingly disjointed. You start doubting your own memory of what was narrated earlier. But still things don’t quite add up…
The twists in this tale are truly superb, some things you feel you should have spotted, but you are so drawn into Flora’s world that you suspended disbelief at the wrong times for the wrong reasons.
This book is genius.
The only other book I read last year that was as good was Dear Amy. Both deal with fractured memories. And apart from having equal genius authors, that’s all they have in common.
This may be one of those books that you love or hate, but if you can press on through the need for Flora to repeat herself, until things start changing, you’ll be well rewarded.
Even if you haven’t been to Svalbard.