Have you got a memory you’d like to forget? And if so, would you get it removed? And if you did, would you want to know there was something missing? Well, the answers to these questions are the premiss of Jo Harkin’s debut novel Tell Me An Ending. This inventive sci-fi novel is and fun and engaging, and covers a range of principles including psychology, philosophy and ethics.
The sci-fi novel is set in an altered version of the present day, where you can remove memories, at a cost that is both financial and, as the narrative explores, emotional. For individuals looking to have memories removed, there are two options: a removal where you’re aware of the procedure, but not the details of the memory, or ‘self-confidential’ clients, who remove any memory of the removal itself.
As part of this premiss, many individuals who had memory wipes start experiencing flashbacks, known as ‘traces’. When this is discovered, some former informed patients sue the company, and the judge rules that it must offer ‘restorations’ to all former clients- including self-confidential ones. Those who elected to forget the procedure entirely are unaware until their lives change in one quick email. Imagine having your entire world view and sense of self rocked like that. Harkin brings that terror to life in this gripping novel.
The novel focuses on a clinic in a small town in Surrey that offers removals for both informed and self-confidential clients, and each chapter features a different character. There’s Noor, a therapist at a UK clinic that offers memory removals and is exploring her boss’s strange behaviour; Oscar, who’s on the run in Morocco from something he has no memory of; William, a former UK cop who’s desperate to erase the memory of a photo that sent him spiralling out of control; Finn, an architect whose wife had a memory removed during a brief break in their relationship many years ago; and finally Mei, a young girl living with her adopted dad in Kuala Lumpur who’s determined to find out about the memory she had removed after dropping out of university.
By incorporating multiple characters into the narrative, Harkin is able to provide a range of different perspectives and see how various people with differing outlooks on life deal with the ethical dilemmas invoked by the existence of a memory removal procedure. At first, it seems like all these individuals are unconnected, except that they all have ties to Nepenthe, the company offering the memory removals. Quickly, however, we see patters emerging, and in, a unique twist, we find the threads all connect these individuals to a sinister conspiracy that shocks the reader and characters to the core.
The book explores the various characters and how each of the customers and their loved ones deal with the news of their memory deletion, and what restorations do, or don’t, do to them. For Noor, the doctor at the memory loss clinic that links all the patients, ethics, philosophy and personal responsibility all come into play as she tries to navigate the minefield that is playing with people’s minds for money.
A slow burn, Tell Me An Ending quickly picks up, so it’s well worth persevering with. I was initially skeptical about how I was going to keep up with this multitude of different characters and different narratives, but they quickly become entwined and within a few chapters I was hooked. It’s relatively easy to follow the premise as the universe in which it is set is so similar to our own, and so unlike other sci-fi novels, I found the world and rules easy to follow. The characters are well-written and relatable, so I was able to understand their struggles and felt invested in their moral dilemmas as each of them wrestled with a different issue related to the removal of a memory.
In all, I was impressed by Harkin’s debut novel. It’s a complex sci-fi story that is easy to understand and isn’t too convoluted, but is also incredibly engaging and interesting. It made me question a lot of my life choices and really shook my world view, which is something that doesn’t happen as often as it should to someone like me who reads a lot. I really enjoyed it, and I’m not even a massive fan of sci-fi novels, which I sometimes find are unnecessary complicated and pretentious. That isn’t the case here, and I think this is a perfect introduction to modern sci-fi for readers looking for a book that keeps them guessing until the final word. At over 500 pages in paperback form, Tell Me An Ending is hardly a quick read, but you find that time moves exceptionally fast when you’re enjoying your book as much as you’ll love this one.