Friday, 25 November 2016

The Memory Box by Margaret Forster

The Memory Box by Margaret Forster
First published in the UK in August 2000.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Swapped for at Lumburn Court campsite

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Catherine's mother died when Catherine was just a baby girl, leaving nothing but her perfect reputation to live up to. Or so she thought. But then Catherine finds a box addressed to her, filled with objects seemingly without meaning - three feathers, an exotic seashell, a painting, a mirror, two prints, an address book, a map, a hat, a rucksack and a necklace. And while she's busy playing detective trying to find out who her mother was, she finds out more about herself than she ever really wanted to know. Secrets are discovered, truths uncovered, and Catherine realises that maybe there was something more to her mother, something that her familiy has kept from her. How long a shadow can a dead woman cast?

I was interested to see how Forster would develop her premise of a woman discovering her lost mother some thirty years later, through the contents of a gaudy hat box. Catherine's mother, Susannah, died when she was just six months old. Her father remarried and Catherine had always rejected the idea of her birth mother, instead insisting that her stepmother, Charlotte, fulfilled that maternal role perfectly. Knowing she was dying, Susannah carefully chose, wrapped and boxed eleven items instructing that the box be given to Catherine. However, through various circumstances, Catherine didn't get the said box until after her father, stepmother and grandmother had died too. With a prickly aunt being the only person left who actually knew Susannah, Catherine is left unravelling the myth of her perfectly happy mother's perfect life single-handedly.

The Memory Box is an incredibly introspective and introverted novel which is quite unusual and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Catherine examines her own life, seeing her choices differently in the light of what she learns about her biological mother. Forster uses her characters to develop a fascinating discussion of motherhood in its many forms and influences. Did Charlotte's constant presence mould the young Catherine to a greater extent than Susannah's genes? Is Catherine's rejection of close friendships and of motherhood for herself a result of her early abandonment?

For me, this novel was a page turner all the way through and I never lost interest in Catherine's quest. Some of her intuitive jumps were too convenient to be believable which why I have only awarded four stars, however overall I very much enjoyed The Memory Box and look forward to discovering more of Forster's work.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Margaret Forster / Women's fiction / Books from England

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