"The Memory of Love" by Linda Olsson


Stories about recovery from loss come in many forms and many moods. Linda Olsson has provided a classic, an exemplar of the type in The Memory of Love. The life of Marion, with its tragic circumstances and heart-rending pathos, provides an impossibly bleak background. Marion is our steam-rolled protagonist and we spend nearly the entire narrative pondering if recovery is even possible.

Linda Olsson deploys a technique of interspersing the heroine’s memories with present-day events, that closely resembles consciousness itself, and we follow Marion’s struggle in a territory devoid of self. Ms. Olsson’s skill here is simply unsurpassed. Layer onto these very effective transitions the metaphoric New Zealand landscapes, the wide variety of secondary characters – some are polar opposites in virtue – and the whole of Memory shines, it reverberates with the author’s skill and ambition.

The focus of our story, Marion, just having passed fifty year in age, has retired from a career in medicine. She has divorced and moved to a beach in New Zealand to live by herself. For various reasons she avoids certain memories – she has become good at this, out of necessity. As the book progresses, Marion lets herself embrace and examine her memories, ghastly as some of them are, because of a young boy’s new presence in her life. He and she share each other’s precarious existences – neither can really trust life, can ever believe they could enjoy it.

Young Ika (a slightly mispronounced form of Mika) comes to live with Marion, unofficially of course, since there are still family members in the picture.
Ika barely communicates; his responses are monosyllables and occasional nods. This parallels Marion’s relationship with her own memories. As Ika opens up more to life, because of Marion’s presence in it, Marion begins to embrace and come to terms with her own unbelievably dark past.

The poetry of transcendence, blind day-to-day survival, the lovely possibilities in giving of oneself – all dwell and coexist in The Memory of Love. I’m in awe of the skill and balance and eye for detail and gentle yoking of mood-changing metaphor. A number of years ago I read and deeply admired Ms. Olsson’s Astrid and Veronika. This book is even better than that grand achievement. I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to take this up if you want to experience a glowing masterpiece.
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