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BOOK REVIEW: The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave

| 21 May 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave

Quercus
February 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Fiction/Speculative/Mystery

3/10

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. 
YOU CAN PRESERVE A HANDFUL OF SPECIAL MEMORIES FOREVER. 
WHICH ONES WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

True death is a thing of the past. Now you can spend the rest of eternity reliving your happiest memories: that first kiss, falling in love, the birth of your children, enjoyed on loop for ever and ever.

Isobel is a Heaven Architect, and she helps dying people create afterlives from these memories. So when she falls for Jarek, one of her terminal – and married – clients, she knows that while she cannot save him, she can create the most beautiful of heavens, just for him.

But when Jarek’s wife is found dead, Isobel uncovers a darker side of the world she works within, and she can trust no one with what she finds…

The Memory Chamber is a thrilling and original story which vaults the reader into a world that is terrifyingly close to our own, where we can avoid everything we fear – even death itself. But can we ever escape the truth?

 

Cave’s premise is fascinating, and readers are bound to envision all kinds of interesting adventures and questions while reading the blurb alone, just as this reader did.

Indeed, the world has some interesting building blocks, like the law surrounding these artificial heavens as it relates to double opt-in, and a certain company’s desire to change said law.

‘I have plenty of memories in here about my ex-husband.’ Maya taps her head and pushes her shoulders back. She is admirably unruffled. ‘Unluckily for me, they’re stuck there. They are my memories; therefore, I have ownership of them. They don’t belong to him, so why should he have any say whether he’s in my Heaven?’

‘Let me ask you this: would it be okay if a man could take memories of a child he has abused into his Heaven? Would it be acceptable to you if an unconvicted rapist could carry on attacking you again and again in his mind until the end of time? The current law is in place for a reason.’

The way people deal with this new and potentially worrying technology.

‘Let souls rise! Let souls rise!’
The younger ones bellow the words, but the men and women I recognise chant with far less agitation than the first day they started picketing us. Perhaps their enthusiasm is starting to wear thin. I let my gaze fall to the pavement as I cross the street.

The exploration of what makes artificial Heavens feel closer to the real life we’re leaving behind.

‘You’d be almost numb. True happiness is only cast from shadows in the same way that light is only framed by shade.’
‘You want me to embrace my darkness?’ he asks. ‘Are you sure?’ the half-smile doesn’t leave his face and I feel like he’s asking me so much more. I take a deep breath and the oxygen vibrates in my lungs.
‘Yes,’ I murmur. ‘A little.’

All in all there is a lot here to explore and unpack, but the had to go and ruin it with a cringe-worthy romance (an affair for both parties) full of teenage-angst levels of emotions.

‘I’m sorry; I can’t help it.’ His words reach me slowly, as if transmitted through water. ‘I can’t stop thinking about you.’
For a second, I know that I could lose everything. But then he kisses me and the thought falls silent as the pressure of his lips seems to burst my eardrums. My grip on my perfectly structured world slips and shatters.

I hear the door unlock as I lean into it and I knock before letting myself in. By design, I’ve never arrived first. It’s my way of holding something back, I suppose. Just one of the many self-deluding ways I’m making it look as if I’m being dragged into this affair, rather than pulling it closer to my heart with every breath.

All while leaving the world-building mostly untouched, and certain questions essentially unanswered.

Why is it, for example, that everyone including the Heaven Architects seems to think that if there is a real Heaven, these digital models would stop a person from gaining access? That the souls of these people are not free to ascend to the real Heaven? All these artificial heavens do is create an electronic copy of a certain part of the person’s neural network, and upload it into a simulation. So for all intents and purposes it is like a copy of a file, not a trapped soul.

Aaaaanyway, this was not the most frustrating part of the story.

No, that honour goes to the HORRIBLE romance at its core.

The first time our main character, Isobel, meets Jarek, she instantly feels a connection. The day of their second session they kiss, are called back into the shelter below the office building when an emergency drill is announced and, oh yeah, sleep together. Thus begins their affair.

He’s married and has a terminal brain tumor. She’s been in a relationship with her partner for, I want to say a decade. She’s in her early thirties, and he’s approaching forty. And yet when someone finds out about their relationship and tells them it can’t happen – that it’s unprofessional, and all based on lust – Isobel insists that it’s real love and nobody understands them.

Ugh, hand me a bucket.

Isobel has such “strong” morals that she would put her career of 10 years on the line because of the single opt-in issue mentioned above, and yet she goes against all these values immediately for a guy she barely knows.

There is a mystery that follows, but it doesn’t really start until close to half way, and even when there is a bigger mystery to solve, it’s so difficult to get past this simpering insistence on this guy being her true love, and her being so sure he could do nothing wrong, despite having only known him for a few months.

All in all there is nothing new or earth-shattering here, and any interesting mechanisms and topics were used merely as a backdrop, and not a properly formed backdrop at that. The main character was not easy to relate to for this reader, and there seemed to be little in the way of any kind of character development or world building.

On the plus side, it is a pretty quick read, and events do seem to move pretty quickly once they get going, so if you’re not a stickler you might get more enjoyment from The Memory Chamber than this reviewer did, though I would recommend it for fans of psychological thrillers, rather than fans of speculative fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

Stephanie O’Connell

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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