The Memory Box by Eva Lesko Natiello lives up to the advertising blurb “a psychological thriller with twists and turns until the last page.” (Amazon website). I have rarely come across a novel that lives up to the claim so well. I highly recommend this thriller be read at a time when you don’t have important stuff to do; it is very difficult to stop reading once you have started. Once I started reading at home, I read it on the way to work in a taxi, during small class breaks between classes I teach, while eating meals, and continually until I finished. Very addicting.
Some people like to Google their own name just to see what the world can know about them. Caroline Thompson was not one of those people. It was her friends who googled her name. They only found three hits. Caroline almost felt insignificant. The feeling lingered until she got the idea to Google her maiden name, Caroline G. Spencer. Initially, several hits returned information. She was impressed and knew that not all hits could relate to her. As she attempted to cull the information for items relevant to her, she found information about her sister, a sister who had died many years before. But she had just talked to her sister, hadn’t she?
From this point on in the novel, the reader observes Caroline slipping in and out of fugue-like states. Is she suffering from a type of amnesia? Is she recalling elements of past lives? There are lots of questions in this well written complex novel.
Natiello is an author writing about a writer (Caroline) who is writing a book. There are a few novels that have used this idea, such as the Stephen King popular novel (and movie) Misery. But Natiello adds at least one more layer to her story. There might be reader disagreement on this point. The novel takes on the characteristics of an onion, one which Natiello peels slowly.
Caroline has children, Lilly and Tessa, and a husband. I felt the character of the husband was not well developed but I also felt it was a purposeful non-development by the author. The husband was a great distraction for the reader. I was conjuring up all kinds of things in the life of the husband. I should have been looking elsewhere; I was wrong.
Initially, Caroline can’t believe her sister is dead. She uses her writer’s research skills to attempt to resolve the mystery. As the novel progresses and she begins to accept that her sister is dead she “sees” and feels parts of her past life. Memories are triggered. The memories don’t always come and go quietly; sometimes she seems to retreat inside herself and be unaware of the world around her. This scares Lilly and Tessa and concerns Andrew, her husband. It also leads to physical injuries as she falls and hits things while in a nearly unconscious state. This, in turn, leads to doctor visits which further lead to psychologist visits.
And the past is revealed. Or maybe not. There are surprises on every few pages. And no, you can’t go to the end and read the ending first. This very well written novel demands that you go through several hoops before being rewarded at the end. The story wouldn’t make sense without the knowledge gained from peeling the onion one layer at a time.
I look forward to reading more from this author. This will be a tough story to top.