The Last Thing She Remembers: A Novel
“A bit over long, the novel’s denouement is sufficiently satisfying to have made the journey worthwhile.”
J. S. Monroe has spun a web of deceit, brutality, and amnesia that makes its appearance in the final quarter of his new book, The Last Thing She Remembers. Set in a small village on the British countryside, Monroe’s tale is a murder mystery that reaches its climax in Berlin. Unlike a typical whodunit, the readers don’t even learn that someone has died until that death is revenged. Or was there a death? And who is the beautiful woman with the lotus tattoo who knocks on the door of the newlyweds Tony and Laura Masters? She tells them they are living in her house. All she has is her train ticket “home.” She remembers the house in great detail, but something clearly is amiss. She can’t even remember her name.
The Masters take pity on their visitor. They put her up for the night and take her to the doctor’s surgery the following morning. Tony decides she needs a name and decides that she looks like a “Jemma.” He calls her by that name and so does everyone else, at least for a while. Monroe then compounds his mystery with the story of another “Jemma,” a murderess, who once lived in the same house and the same village. Was this simply an odd coincidence? Will the new Jemma get her memory back and find out who she is? She looks somewhat like the killer Jemma or is something else going on?
Monroe tells half of his story using the voice of the woman who cannot remember her name, whose luggage and papers were lost (stolen?) at Heathrow Airport when she flew in from Berlin. Suddenly, the voice of the narrator changes to an objective observer of activities. We are then back into the mind of the protagonist. These changes generally occur as the short chapters alternate. It is an unnecessary distraction in a story where reality is hard to ascertain.
There are numerous additional characters in this British fog, all searching for the unknown woman’s identity and for clues to the other subplots. When “Jemma” takes center stage in the narrative, her confusion is brilliantly conceived, but could she just be playing a role? To add to the uncertainty, Monroe sprinkles name changes throughout the book. (In fact, the author’s name, J. S. Monroe, is a pseudonym for Jon Stock, a British journalist.) Even the name of book has changed. It was entitled Forget My Name when published in the UK last year.
An important subplot features large photographs of sea horses that line Tony’s vegan take out. He is beginning to suffer from the Alzheimer’s disease that took the life of his father at a very young age. He is fixated on the loss of memory much like Jemma, his visitor. He seems to disregard his wife in favor of this mystery guest, but why?
Ultimately, the novel ends with the reconciliation of the diverse strands. A bit over long, the novel’s denouement is sufficiently satisfying to have made the journey worthwhile.