Title: Tell Me An Ending
Author: Jo Harkins
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone, Hutchinson Heinemann
Genre: General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Release Date: 12th May 2022
BLURB from Goodreads
Dystopian debut about a tech company that deletes unwanted memories, the consequences for those forced to contend with what they tried to forget, and the dissenting doctor who seeks to protect her patients from further harm.
What if you once had a painful memory removed? And what if you were offered the chance to get it back?
Tell Me an Ending follows four characters grappling with the question of what to remember—and what they hoped to forget 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 drop-out in Kuala Lumpur, wonders why she remembers a city she’s 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, an emotionally closed-off psychologist at the memory removal clinic in London, who begins to suspect her glamorous boss Louise of serious wrongdoing.
I have seen a couple different covers for this book, but my preferred one is the Hutchinson Heinneman hardback one. The front cover features what I would say is a blank white sheet with a figure at the centre of it, which fits with the whole ethic of “wiping the slate clean” or “fresh blank sheet of paper.” I love the by-line of “What if you didn’t have to live with your worst memories” which is the whole basis of the book really. There’s a large company called Nepenthe who offer a service that means you can have traumatic, or even just memories you don’t want removed. “Nepenthe” literally means “a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow.” Would this book cover make me pick it up from a bookstore shelf? Honestly, I’m not sure, though upon reading the by-line I think I would want to read the blurb and that would be the thing that hooked me into wanting to read the book.
Initially all seems like it is going well for Nepenthe with the memory removals, then people begin to get what the media name “traces,” meaning they have flashbacks, or nightmares about the memories they have had removed. This becomes such a serious problem that when it is discovered the “removed” memories can be restored. Everyone that has had a removal is sent a letter explaining that they have a choice, to stay as they are with their memory “erased” or they can come back into the clinic and have the “re-installed.” These people who went have paid a large amount of money to have these memories taken away are now faced with the reality that perhaps those strange flashback, or just out of reach “half memories” and those weird nightmares they have been having may be connected to their memory they so desperately wanted removing. Now they are presented with a tough quandary, continue as they are or risk having their “unwanted memory” returned and have to deal with the consequences of that. There were two types of clients at the Nepenthe clinic, the day time ones that the clients were aware they’d had a procedure. The other type of client usually came to the clinic at night and along with their unwanted memory being removed so was the knowledge of having the procedure done. However, there is also another sub-section of clients, ones that one of the Nepenthe Doctors did memory removals on, sort of “on the side” as in they “didn’t go through the books.” Which is going to make contacting them incredibly difficult as they do not have official Nepenthe records, meaning if they moved home etc, their records would not be updated. This presents a very complex problem for the Doctor who needs to contact all such cases, explain to then they had a procedure done in “unusual” circumstances, and then given the choice, and appropriate counselling to make a decision and finally either given the procedure to reinstate the memory or not. All this has to happen without anyone else finding out and informing the bosses of Nepenthe.
Nepenthe has various clinics but the one the book concentrates on is Crowshill. Dr Noor Ali is one of the doctors working at that clinic and she lives in the area, whereas Dr Louise Nightingale has a higher position in the company and is based at the London HQ but regularly visits the Crowshill clinic. Memory removals are temporarily put on hold and the attention is on finding those who are being offered the procedure to give them back their memory. It’s whilst the process of contacting these parties that Noor becomes suspicious of her colleague Louise. Certain practices in the clinic records need two employees to access them. Noor has become so used to performing this task for Louise that she puts in her password and leaves Louise to do whatever she needs when the company expectations are that this system means two people should be looking over whatever is being done. It is only when Noor begins to become suspicious about what exactly Louise is up to. Noor does some of her own digging around and then finds herself in a dilemma. Should she tell her superiors what she has found out about what Louise is/has been up to. Or should she just stay quiet, but then, she has the worry of if what Louise has been doing is discovered by the bosses of Nepenthe and they look at the computer logs her own name will be seen to. Noor soon comes to the conclusion that she will be implicated either way. She isn’t the most confident person and worries about upsetting her friend. Whilst at the same time thinking maybe her friend is “using her” and will put the blame on her if found out, making her some sort of scapegoat, something she isn’t willing to be for anyone.
The book follows the individuals being given this choice and the struggles coming to a decision about what to do. One such person, William, a policeman, only discovers he has had a memory removed when he is wanting something else removed. He needs special permission as he is a Policeman and it is illegal for them to undergo the procedure if the memory is anything to do with a criminal case. Life is already hard for William at the moment, his wife Annetta has moved out of their family home with their two children, Fiona and Milo and is living at her childhood home under the pretext of helping her mother for a while. When William reveals the fact, he had previously had a memory removed his wife thinks it’s a simple decision and, in her opinion, there is only one choice, he should have it back.
The book follows just four patients, William, Finn, Oscar, and Mei, but when you are reading it feels like so many more. You really don’t realise how having a specific memory removed could have a domino effect on the rest of your life and those around you too. There are so many different threads within the book from those that work at Nepenthe, those who sit outside the futuristic clinic protesting against it every day, and of course those who pay to use the clinic. You may think I have revealed a lot about the book in this review but truly I have only touched the surface of the book and it’s contents.
My immediate thoughts upon finishing reading the book were that I found the book a really interesting read and had really looked forward to reading more each evening. I regularly ended up pondering the book during the day, putting myself in the different positions of the characters.
Summing up, this book is a little slower paced than ones I usually read, but I’ll be totally honest when I say I ended up really enjoying the change of pace and the more in-depth mysterious plot. Along with the suspense of would the secrets of two of the doctors at the clinic be revealed and if they were, what would happen to them. In the end I really couldn’t have guessed at the final ending! I found the different clients memories people had removed or were considering removing and their reasons for wanting them removed very interesting. Reading about them was like “people watching” but much deeper. Also, these same people were then suddenly, out of the blue, being faced with the reality of perhaps not all the memory has been successfully removed, or perhaps too much memory has been removed. And finally, they had to face the dilemma of whether to have the memory "returned" or not. This book is certainly thought provoking, even after you have finished reading it all.