My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares
The rather lovely notion of enduring passion across many lifetimes is at the centre of My Name is Memory, the seventh novel by Ann Brashares, perhaps best-known as the author of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series for young adults.
This new book is her second in the adult fiction genre, after 2007’s The Last Summer (of You and Me), and, clearly emboldened by her earlier successful renderings of the torment and complexity of teenagehood, she introduces her two main characters, Daniel and Lucy, as they experience a profound connection that comes to a climax at a high school ball.
The encounter, as fleeting as it is dramatic, leaves both Lucy and the reader baffled: who is Daniel and where did he come from? Why does he insist on calling Lucy ‘Sophia’? How can she be so drawn to someone she doesn’t even know?
Answers start to emerge in the following chapter, when the action jumps from present-day United States to North Africa in 541, and the tense from the third person to the first, with the narrator musing: “I was first born to the north of the city that was then called Antioch . . . I consider it my first life . . . I guess it’s possible that I’ve lived lives before that.” This faltering voice belongs to Daniel, who has lived dozens of lives in succession and can remember them all. (The possibility that reincarnation is very common and that only the individual’s awareness of it is unusual is alluded to by Brashares but regrettably not fully explored.)
It is in this first life that he meets Lucy, then a nameless young girl who disappears inside a burning house that Daniel has torched in battle. Tormented, he searches for her down the centuries, finding her, in different women, in 700s Asia Minor and in England in the shadow of World War I. But how to engage Lucy’s memory of Daniel’s role in her previous lives, and what – or who – will intervene to thwart their love?
Aspects of My Name is Memory are reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks’ remarkable 2008 novel People of the Book, which tracked not a love affair but the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book, through centuries of European unrest.
Brashares’ tale, hinging as it does on character rather than setting, is neither as well-researched nor as meticulously detailed as Brooks’, but both writers have a knack for moving swiftly through time and from place to place without discombobulating the reader. Considering Brashares’ action can leap from 2006 Virginia to the coast of Crete in 899 in the course of two chapters, it’s an admirable feat.
That said, if you’ve had any more than a glancing encounter with Audrey Niffenegger’s megaselling The Time Traveller’s Wife, it will occur to you, within a handful of pages, that Brashares is either unabashedly ripping Niffenegger off or out to prove she can do it better.
For this and other reasons – the pure romanticism, the dastardly villain standing in the way of true love – Brashares’ storyline will be familiar in a favourite-blanket sort of way. It’s nothing out of the comfort zone, but good to spend some time with – and proves a surprisingly tender read that is best undertaken in a minimum of sittings.
This review was previously published on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Published by Penguin Random House