The Memory Keeper’s Daughter- Kim Edwards

Kim Edwards has written a tale of loss, love, and the agony of living with the consequences of actions. There’s a10441 strong streak of loss weaving through the story, lying dormant at times and usurping centre stage at others. The essence of the loss varies across the story.There’s  the loss of a daughter, loss of a sister, loss of trust, loss of companionship, loss of the texture of a marriage; each one no less intense. The author also crafts beautiful images which adds so much to bringing the scene alive. “……sprays of white and lavender pressing against the glass, their scent drifting in like light”. “…. shoulder blades, elegant and perfect, stretching out like wings beneath layers of skin and muscle.”

Dr. David Henry’s wife Norah gives birth to twins on a cold snowy day. One of them has Down’s Syndrome which leaves the doctor distraught. (He has not yet come to terms with the death of his own sister, who had a weak heart, many years back). The year is 1964 and in those days children with Down’s Syndrome were not expected to live long. Wanting to spare his wife the trauma of getting attached to a child and then losing her, David hands over his daughter Phoebe, to the nurse with instructions to take her and leave her at an institution for such children. The nurse Caroline, cannot bear to leave the infant once she sees the conditions in that place. Convinced that the doctor would come to his senses after a couple of days, she takes the baby back to her house. When Norah awakens, David informs her that one baby died at birth.

David’s action has far reaching and unforeseen consequences. An action which was meant to bring succour to Norah leaves her feeling adrift. Since she wasn’t shown the baby, she feels a lack of closure, a sense of emptiness within her. Even though she’s led to believe that Phoebe is no more, Norah finds it difficult to let go. In order to feel closer to her daughter she arranges a memorial service for her. Caroline sees that as the final disowning of Phoebe and she uproots herself and quietly relocates to another part of the country. The rest of the story traces the paths of the five characters, David, Norah, their son Paul, Caroline and Phoebe.

A slight tediousness creeps in somewhere in the middle and the flow of the story becomes sluggish and I felt strangely dissatisfied. At this juncture, the stage has been set, the characters’ motivations and their lives have been detailed and I expected a progression in the narrative. But I was disappointed. The descriptions which had earlier enriched the story, started getting more importance than the people. It seemed as if the storyline had gotten away from the author and decided to go off course and wander around at a leisurely pace.

My biggest grouse with the author is that she has not given enough importance to Phoebe, and Caroline’s efforts to help Phoebe lead a normal life. According to me, the Memory Keeper’s daughter i.e. Phoebe, gets the least importance. Kim Edwards does a wonderful job with the portrayal of Phoebe’s character. However these moments we get with her are frustratingly few.  There’s only so much angst the reader can take in the case of Norah. It’s difficult to feel sorry for her when she seems to revel in her misery. David too does not endear himself by his actions. Not only does he tell a monumental lie to his wife, he then proceeds to shut her out of his life. Both David and Norah are guilty of fanning their sorrow at the cost of their son’s emotional well being.

In spite of these drawbacks, I loved the ending. I loved Phoebe and the world she has created for herself. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a good read if you have the patience to wade through the lag which appears half way through. The beginning is brilliant and the latter part is not too bad. This book is a treat for a lover of the English language. Kim Edwards has done a wonderful job in bringing alive the backdrop of a scene.

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6 thoughts on “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter- Kim Edwards

    1. Yeah, Secrets Of The Fire King has got rave reviews. I haven’t read it, but it’s on top of my list
      of to-read books. The characters sound brilliant. Kim Edwards uses such magical words. But I felt she could have delved deeper into the subject which by itself is fascinating.

      Like

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