This review was first posted on Amazon in July 2011
‘How to Forget’ is a preposterous but highly enjoyable novel. It is filled with swindles and confidence tricks, magic and sleight-of-hand. There is also some cracking wordplay (or maybe dreadful puns, depending on how you feel about such things).
I found the start of the novel as little confusing. The opening of the book, tells how Marius Brill has ordered the notes of Dr Tavisligh, a controversial neuroscientist. Tavisligh has disappeared and Brill has taken on the job of ordering the notes of her last experiment into some sort of order. The story follows several points of view, and is interspersed with clippings from various (fictional) scientific publications. This led to a rather broken up beginning. It was interesting but it was hard to see how a narrative might evolve. Part Two of the novel (from page 60) blew my misgivings away.
The two main characters are Peter, an accomplished magician, who, after a particularly putrescent child played a trick on him, is on the sex offenders register, and Kate, a con-artist down on her luck. There is a great ensemble cast, in particular Titus, a smarmy Derren Brown type TV hypnotist and Agent Brown, the dogged FBI agent who has been tracking Kate for most of his career.
The reader is treated some great bluffs and double bluffs, double crosses and sleight-of-hands. It’s all breathtakingly inventive. I’m not sure the plot would stand up to scrutiny, it’s quite a house of cards that Brill has built, and it probably wouldn’t be hard to knock it down. But what sort of curmudgeon would want to do that?
There is also a serious side to the novel. Much of it deals with our memories, and how sometimes life would be so much easier if we could simply forget. Peter works in an old people’s home with sufferers of dementia. There are some touching scenes and thought-provoking commentary on the tragedy of memory loss.
I think there were probably a few too many digressions into the scientific papers, I’m not sure they improved my reading experience, but they dwindle to almost nothing as the novel progresses. They certainly did nothing to spoil what is highly accomplished storytelling. I doubt many better books will be published this year. Highly recommended.