Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Seven novels featuring amnesia

This theme started intriguing me at about the age of 11, when I read one of the Trixie Belden mysteries entitled, 'The Missing Heiress' in which Trixie and her friends come across a lovely young woman from a car accident who can remember nothing. Around the same time, I was probably watching the 'Gilligan's Island' episode in which Mary Ann, and later Gilligan, lost their memories, and the other castaways were trying to help them recover.

The human brain is a fascinating organ. How bizarre that it is possible to lose a chunk of data to the extent of forgetting your identity. Even more so when you consider the information isn't really gone at all, but just stored away from the consciousness somewhere. The human brain has been compared to a computer, and this missing files theory helps me understand why. I'm no scientist, but as a reader and writer, I could always sense the huge scope for mystery and confusion in a plot with amnesia. For years I aimed to write one of my own, and loved it when I actually managed to do so.

I have another theory about why the subject may intrigue us. I don't want to start a debate about whether or not life starts before conception, but have you ever heard the suggestion that when we go through the passage of being born, our slates are wiped clean, so to speak? All our wonderful identities as unique creations of God are completely forgotten. In this school of thought, total amnesia may be part of the general human condition, and we don't even realise. Even if life begins at the moment of conception, our experiences in utero are generally completely forgotten. (As a child, I used to think it curious that people can't remember being born, but that's the subject of another post.)

I have a short list of amnesia novels to get you started if you'd like to explore the theme. Feel free to add more in the comments.

1) Being Henry David

Being Henry David This is a Young Adult novel about a teenage boy who wakes up in a train station with no memory or identity. There is a copy of 'Walden' by Henry David Thoreau in his pocket, not much of a starting point but it's all he has. He decides making his way to Concord, Massachusetts may be a good way to get memories moving.

2) Under the Sassafras

Under the Sassafras
 This is a romance about a jaded young woman who pulls an unconscious man out of her swamp. She wants to hurry him on his way, but when he comes to, he's lost his memory. Too compassionate to throw him out, she's determined not to get used to his presence.
I've reviewed it here.

3) A Gift to Remember

A Gift to Remember
It's a Christmas story in which a young woman riding a bike to work across the slick ice knocks a pedestrian off his feet. She feels responsible for his subsequent memory loss and tries to help him remember his past, creating all sorts of muddles.
I've reviewed it here.

4) Freefall
A young woman is involved in a hiking accident in Hawaii. She comes to with no memory of her identity. Although this is just the tip of the iceberg, as she quickly regains her sense of self, it was a good place to start.
I've reviewed it here.

5) The Forgotten Garden 

The Forgotten Garden  
The little girl in 1913, at the crux of this story, suffers a bout of amnesia from which she never completely recovers. This memory loss turns out to be integral to the mystery of this story.
I've reviewed it here.

6) The Healer's Touch
The Healer's Touch
This is a light-hearted historical novel incorporating amnesia and mistaken identity. A young woman discovers an unconscious man in her barn, and assumes he's a local ruffian. When he comes to, he's lost his memory and unable to tell her any different. Thinking she must know more than he does, he assumes he is indeed an outlaw.

7) Best Forgotten

Best Forgotten
I took a slightly different angle to several others. Rather than remaining unaware of his identity until the end, the hero, Courtney Lockwood, is told who he is a few chapters in. As he learns snippets about himself from others, he puts together a composite picture of a man he doesn't like. What's more, he's afraid his old self may have been responsible for a lot of trouble. There's a chilling mystery to be solved about the whereabouts of his friend, Joel, who disappeared on the same night as his accident. Courtney's girlfriend, Jasmine, behaves evasively whenever he questions her about anything, so he's beginning to think he might have had something to do with it. As well as being the hero, he becomes the detective of his own story, and hopes he won't be found to be the villain. Understandably, he doesn't know whether he wants his memory back or not. I liked exploring the questions this story raised, such as the extent to which an individual's personality can be tied up with his sum of experiences.

I'd like to offer a free copy of 'Best Forgotten' to three random readers who comment on this post. It's fine for young adult, new adult and adult readers alike, and won the CALEB Awards fiction prize in 2011. I'd love to know your thoughts about amnesia stories, suggestions for more, and maybe why you'd like to read it.


  1. I'm sure I've read novels with amnesia (other than Freefall), but I can't say I can remember any Christian ones off the top of my head. That said, my favorite kind of amnesia novel is the one you wrote, where the person is surrounded by people who knew him/her and there are all kinds of secrets and the person is no longer the person they were previously...so obviously I need to read your book!

    1. Hi Embassie, so glad you'd like to read it. At this stage, it seems your chances of winning one are pretty high :) I forgot to mention, I'll let people know next week.