Book Club Meeting # 4 – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

I didn’t make it along to this meeting as I had just started a new job and was trying to get used to the new commute and early rise. As such, I don’t know what the general consensus on this novel was but I thought I would add a couple of notes of what I thought of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

I had heard of this book when it was in Richard & Judy’s book club a few years ago but never got round to reading it.

This is the description from the publisher Penguin:

Families have secrets they hide even from themselves . . .

It should have been an ordinary birth, the start of an ordinary happy family. But the night Dr David Henry delivers his wife’s twins is a night that will haunt five live for ever.

For though David’s son is a healthy boy, his daughter has Down’s syndrome. And, in a shocking act of betrayal whose consequences only time will reveal, he tells his wife their daughter died while secretly entrusting her care to a nurse.

As grief quietly tears apart David’s family, so a little girl must make her own way in the world as best she can.

It doesn’t sound like a particularly cheery read but I wasn’t bothered so much about that, not everything can be sunshine and dancing flowers. This is one of the few books I’ve read this year that I really haven’t enjoyed, not because it was bad as such, it just made me angry – the way it was written, the actions of the characters, the omissions. It’s funny because in life I like to rant quite a bit if something annoys me but when it comes to books I’m usually quite accepting.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter did not fare so well, I’m afraid…

There were a few things I liked – the shifting narrative, a story told through the years and from the perspectives of different characters and getting their version of events. It was interesting to see how the characters dealt with the secrets they kept, and the different approaches to life for David and Caroline. While David struggled with giving up his daughter and the pain it causes his family, Caroline cherishes Phoebe and works towards greater acceptance for people with Down’s Syndrome.

And that’s where the positives finish really. I found a lot of the dialogue to be unrealistic and repetitive. David kept questioning his son’s choices about education, and that argument kept coming back, and back. I know sometimes that can happen in real life when an argument keeps re-occurring but here it just seemed a bit relentless and unnecessary.

Yes, there were some nice ideas in the novel – David trying to take pictures to capture moments and realising that these captured moments don’t represent memories, that they are just stills of our past, not containing any more than a glimpse of the past. This is nicely done, with the contrast of David’s pleasure at getting a good shot of his wife Norah, and her disenchantment with their life together described alongside it. David asks Norah to pose repeatedly to capture just one shot, architecturing fake moments of perfection that unfortunately never exist in real life for him and Norah.

However, what bugged me most about this novel was the repetition and how ideas and images were constantly re-used. Snow as a fresh and cleansing force, stones and walls that weigh the characters down or divide them, and planets in orbit reflecting the relationships between characters, always connected and influencing one another but never coming into contact. Everything felt a bit laboured, even the ending was unneccessarily happy considering the depressing story. I’m not usually negative about books (as I’m sure the majority of my reviews will testify) but what clinched it for me was that Phoebe, the daughter who is abandoned by Henry, always seems to be an after-thought.

Part of the point of this novel was to illustrate the ignorance about Down’s Syndrome in the ’60s and I feel like this would have been a much braver novel if more space had been given over to Phoebe and the effects that David’s decision had on her. Although Phoebe is well looked after by Caroline, she is stifled and strongly discouraged when she asks for more freedom – the freedom to live as others do and marry her sweetheart, Robert, who also suffers from Down’s Syndrome – for fear that she won’t cope.

Anyway, I have ranted too long! Has anyone read this? What were your thoughts?

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5 Comments

Filed under Book Club

5 responses to “Book Club Meeting # 4 – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

  1. I haven’t read this and I was a little curious after seeing it in bookshops a lot. I don’t think I will pick it up very soon now though.

  2. My mum’s got this on her shelf and every time I walk past it, I consider picking it up. I probably won’t bother now!

    It’s always good to have a rant and get it out of your system! 🙂

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