Memory and its loss unpacked

Canadian writer Jeffrey Moore forges comedy from unlikely material in his second novel, «The Memory Artists.» In Athens this week for the launch of the Greek translation of the novel by Vania Lambrinidou for Empiria Publishers, Moore talked to Kathimerini English Edition about his work. His choice of subject – loss of memory, and its opposite, the inability to forget – came as a surprise to fans of his effervescent first novel «Prisoner in A Red-Rose Chain.» «I remember seeing my agent lean back and roll her eyes in horror when I explained to someone at a reading that my next book was going to be about a woman who has Alzheimer’s,» laughed Moore. «And when I added that the character’s son was a hypermnesiac synesthete who remembers everything and sees words in color, I saw her eyes roll again.» Having lost both parents to Alzheimer’s, Moore is the first to realize that the disease is no joking matter. «The fear was of creating a very dark and depressing book. I had to bring in some lightness. Alzheimer’s isn’t funny, but the sub-plots could be.» Hence Norval, the cynical, pleasure-addicted English lecturer; JJ, the war-hearted geek who is stuck in childhood and has a penchant for inane pop psychology apothegms; and Vorta, the demonic professor who is behind the supposedly scientific but deeply self-serving endnotes. Moore throws them together with Noel, the synesthete, his mother Stella, and the confused Sarina, all of whom get to tell part of their own story. Getting away from purely third-person narrative was another breakthrough in the development of the book. Moore had felt stuck, unable to advance the story, when he saw a way of giving each character a voice. For JJ, it’s his scrapbook, a miscellany of invitations and press clippings which answer some questions at the end. Stella’s records her descent into darkness and her extraordinary emergence from it, thanks to a bizarre combination of drugs concocted by her son. We are not sure quite what happens at the end of the book, because Noel, who loses his extraordinary but tyrannical memory, may also have lost the information needed to make the drug again, but it does look like a happy ending. Is this wishful thinking, given that Alzheimer’s is, at least in the light of present knowledge, a one-way road? Moore, who did such meticulous research into the current state of science on the disease that his book was reviewed by The Lancet, feels optimism is justified. «I think it’s a question of a very few years before we get a cure,» he said. In fact, this aspect made some readers feel he should have set the book in the near future, but that would have propelled it into the realm of sci-fi, which is not his genre, as well as promptly making all the contemporary research he cites obsolete. Don’t get the idea that all the science makes the book reek overly of midnight oil. Far from it: The rapid interchange of viewpoints, rollicking humor, and engaging characters make a surprising amount of information palatable to the least scientifically inclined reader. And if all goes well, the book will soon have acquire a second life, this time on screen.