Genre: Mystery; Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 7 March 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
“In Paris in the year 1899, Marcel Després is arrested for the murder of his wife and transferred to the famous Salpetriere Asylum. And there the story might have stopped.
But the doctor assigned to his care soon realizes this is no ordinary patient: Marcel Després, Mister Memory, is a man who cannot forget. And the policeman assigned to his case soon realizes that something else is at stake: For why else would the criminal have been hurried off to hospital, and why are his superiors so keen for the whole affair to be closed?
This crime involves something bigger and stranger than a lovers’ fight, something with links to the highest and lowest establishments in France. The policeman and the doctor between them must unravel the mystery—but the answers lie inside Marcel’s head. And how can he tell what is significant when he remembers every detail of every moment of his entire life?
My Thoughts: Marcus Sedgwick typically writes young adult novels, and I have loved every one of them I have read. They are haunting and beautiful and almost always profound in some fashion. Mister Memory is his first adult novel, and it was with trepidation and anticipation I opened its pages.
From the opening line, it is apparent that Mr. Sedgwick continues to bring the same lyricism and beauty to this unusual mystery as he does to all of his novels. There is a fluidity to his writing style that makes it impossible not to find yourself completely absorbed in the story and lost to the rest of the world. He tells so much in a few words. In the case of turn-of-the-century Paris, it allows readers to not just visual the unfamiliar time and place but understand and experience it.
He takes the same care with his characters. Marcel, Dr. Morel, Cavard, Inspector Petit, and the rest of his characters come to life under his pen. While their physical descriptions remain fairly simplistic, Mr. Sedgwick focuses instead on their character. Unlike other mysteries, we get to understand the key players in the novel, their motivations, fears, regrets, joys, and so forth. We see their struggles and their growth as they absorb new ideas, ruminate over different philosophies, and experience life. They become real people, and their pain becomes our pain.
This is particularly true with Marcel, Dr. Morel and Inspector Petit. All three are damaged men in their individual fashion, and all three spend large swaths of time in the spotlight of the narrative. Marcel’s pain is obvious, as is Inspector Petit’s. However, it is with Dr. Morel where the novel finds its heart and soul, as he is the tie that binds all three characters together. It is Dr. Morel who fully comprehends Marcel’s astounding memory and what it means for him, and it is through his eyes that we feel compassion for Marcel.
While Mister Memory may be a murder mystery on the surface, it is much more than that in the end. All of Mr. Sedgwick’s novels tackle some form of philosophical thought, and Mister Memory is no different. He never grandstands his point though but allows readers to formulate their own ideas about the topic. In this case, what he presents about memory and the individual, its function, how it defines us and what that means is not only fascinating but it also inclines readers to contemplate similar ideas on their own.
Mister Memory is what I have come to expect from Mr. Sedgwick and so much more. With his foray into adult novels, he tackles loftier ideas and delves into the seedier side of man. His Paris is the dirty underbelly of the city, and he captures it in all of its depraved glory. There are few innocents in his world, and it makes for a grittier but more interesting story.