This has spoilers
“I have woken up inside one of my own memories. I am really here, yet I know I am not.”
I loved The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Penguin, 2017). I didn’t at first, but her unreliable adventures crept up on me. Flora, you are most definitely brave.
Some readers got annoyed by all that repitition, but I found it allowed me inside Flora’s brain. As her repitition continues, the story she writes in her notebook changes, subtly and insidiously – unreliable narration at its finest. Her adventures that never seem quite real. And Jacob, Jacob really is the best!
“Oh Flora, the only predictable thing about you is the certainty that you’ll do something surprising.”
And the bloody Arctic. Svalbard, how I love thee.
“I want to see how I can exist by myself. I want to be allowed to live inside my memory.”
After I finished reading I came across The Bookavid’s review. She has similar memory loss to Flora and hated the representation of disability in the book. When reading her thoughts, I was reminded of how I think of the rep of mental illness in Made You Up by Francesca Zappia. I agree with Bookavid’s points, but I can’t stop loving Flora’s story, again what some readers have said about reading Made You Up.
“I love Drake so much that he has made my brain work again.”
The whole Drake-cured-Flora’s-memory-loss trope really grated as I read. More than once I considered ditching Flora, like I wanted her to ditch Drake. He is such a monumental dick.
“The thing is,” says Drake, “I can say this because like what the hell, you won’t remember anyway.”
Towards the end, as people tell Flora what happened that night on the beach (or lie about what happened) it becomes apparent that Drake and her “love” for him isn’t the point at all. Even Toby from the Arctic cafe has a theory:
“Didn’t you come here, perhaps, because you heard him talking about the place he was going to and it called to you?”
Svalbard always calls. Paige echoed my initial thoughts that Drake is a bastard and isn’t worth a moment of either of their time. This un-romance aspect of the story was somewhat overshadowed by the ad nauseum “I kissed a boy.”
As I read, I considered the rep of Flora’s disability not the best. I laughed a lot at her antics, which comes down to laughing at her disability. Really not desirable when writing good representation. Towards the end, I was so caught up in finding out what was true and what wasn’t, that I kind of forgot my earlier qualms. Bookavid explains:
“Flora’s illness is something that has to be overcome and a hinderance. While I understand that she thinks like this to some degree, Barr doesn’t try to open a dialogue about this.”
I didn’t feel the lack of dialogue was as pronounced. The introduction of Flora’s doctor came very late, but was welcome. He may not cure her, but as with mental illness, treatment is important. Illness can definitely be a hinderance and something to be overcome.
What we like and what offends us is so individual, and the more we know about an experience, the less we can tolerate innacuracies in our reading. I guess I understand more where Francesca Zappia’s Made You Up was coming from, maybe.
I listened to the audiobook of The One Memory of Flora Banks. Rosie Jones’ voicework is flawless.
From now on I’m going to try living by Flora’s rules for life:
If you see a cat with no ears, you should take it home.