Book Review: Tell Me An Ending by Jo Harkin

Author: Jo Harkin
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Scribner Book Company
Publish Date: March 1, 2022
Print Length: 448

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Official Synopsis

What if you didn’t have to live with your worst memories?

Across the world, thousands of people are shocked by a notification that they once chose to have a memory removed. Now they are being given an opportunity to get that memory back. Four individuals are filled with new doubts, grappling with the unexpected question of whether to remember unknown events, or to leave them buried forever.

Finn, an Irish architect living in the Arizona desert, begins to suspect his charming wife of having an affair. Mei, a troubled grad school dropout in Kuala Lumpur, wonders why she remembers a city she has never visited. William, a former police inspector in England, struggles with PTSD, the breakdown of his marriage, and his own secret family history. Oscar, a handsome young man with almost no memories at all, travels the world in a constant state of fear.

Into these characters’ lives comes Noor, a psychologist working at the Nepenthe memory removal clinic in London. The process of reinstating patients’ memories begins to shake the moral foundations of her world. As she delves deeper into how the program works, she will have to risk everything to uncover the cost of this miraculous technology.

A provocative exploration of secrets, grief, and identity–of the stories we tell ourselves–Tell Me an Ending is a sharp, dark, and devastating novel about the power of memory (Booklist).

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

TELL ME AN ENDING broaches the philosophical question of whether our memories define us, or we define our memories. It questions whether we can truly be ourselves if we wipe the experiences that influence our daily perceptions and decisions. This dystopian fiction follows the lives of four characters who eventually realize they or a loved one had agreed to remove certain memories. As they grapple with this knowledge they must decide whether to recover those memories, a choice fraught with potential mental health implications.

The author writes each perspective casually, like a stream of consciousness. Thankfully there is proper punctuation and sentence structure. I don’t think I would have been able to read it otherwise as this is not typically a writing style I prefer. Overall, though, I think it works well. It shows how each character processes the world around them while feeling as if something isn’t quite right. It enables us to see how they try to cope with the sudden knowledge that a piece of themselves is missing.

Meanwhile, Noor, an employee of Nepenthe, begins to question the memory company’s true motives. Noor is not very emotive and avoids social interaction if she can help it. This makes her perfect for a company like Nepenthe. Do your job, avoid emotional investment, repeat. But protesters alleging a cover up, and several other events, cause Noor to wonder what Nepenthe actually cares about. Does Nepenthe value their patients’ happiness or their bottom dollar? It’s worth noting that there is some sapphic representation in Noor’s story, but the focus remains on the dystopia unfolding in her life.

While the concept of this novel was intriguing, I felt at times it dragged on a bit. I thought it was important to provide different characters’ perspectives to show why someone might remove a memory. However, I found the inner exploration of the reason behind their decision lacking in some cases. One character’s journey just flat out ended; I was confused about why there wasn’t one last chapter about that person. I also found the explanation of the procedure behind the memory removal unconvincing. I don’t expect the science to be down pat. But I think either omitting or fully committing to it would have enhanced the dystopian vibes.

However, TELL ME AN ENDING offers a glimpse into what life might be like if we had the choice to wipe certain pieces of ourselves. Would wiping a memory cause us to lose a piece of the puzzle, our whole selves? Or could it actually improve one’s life, assuming no trace of the (usually traumatic) original memory resurfaces?

Rating: 3.5/5
Content warnings: suicide, mention of incest, mention of death
Reading format: Kindle e-book

For additional thoughts about TELL ME AN ENDING, check out reviews by Runalong The Shelves, Aster’s Book Hour, and Armed With A Book.

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