So I looked at the 2020 World Fantasy Award nominees and realized that I’d read all of them except one, Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police. It’s a strong slate, on the whole, so I figured I might as well finish it off.
The premise here is that on this island nation, the government occasionally declares things forgotten. And then everyone forgets them, in a way that blends a sort of dystopian realism (everyone ostentatiously discarding/burning the forgotten thing to be seen as complying) with straight up fantasy (people legitimately forget the emotional connotations and context of the forgotten things, such that seeing one evokes no response). It’s less fantastic in nature than I would have assumed going in, but the magical realism sense keeps ramping up as the novel goes on.
But it’s the dystopian politics that stand out more than the fantastic elements, because of course the titular police are prominent, seeking out and punishing people who still remember the forgotten things, as well as the people who give them shelter or sympathy.
It’s a very cold book, written with a kind of detachment that keeps it at arm’s remove from the awfulness of the world it describes. On the one hand, this is probably a good choice, because a book that was more sentimental or sensational would feel cheap. But on the other hand, that detachment makes it hard to get really invested in the book, and it ends up reading more like an intellectual exercise than anything pressingly vital. It’s a perfectly decent book, but definitely one of the weaker works on that award slate. If it sounds interesting, I wouldn’t disrecommend it, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to actively recommend it.