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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Groove Book Report - Book Review: Brushstrokes of Memory, by Karen McMillan

The minute this arrived Mum grabbed it and snuck away to a warm corner to begin reading it.  My review is coloured by her account.  She sits at my shoulder and corrects me, lest I get it wrong.  "That Karen deserves more", she tells me.  "A fine writer."

This novel is also close to home, being a ‘a novel of love, lost memories & rediscovering dreams’.  My father suffers from Alzheimers, so we know this tale well.

I first met Karen McMillan about 6 years ago and she's supplied me with many great books for the Groove Book Report.  This is her second, for us.  She's a North Shore, Auckland based writer. Her previous two books, set in WWII in Poland and America, The Paris of the East and The Paris of the West, received popular acclaim but are significantly different from this one.

I know it's a little tired but there's still much to say.  Karen taps into the well of 'losing memory’ when she tells of  Rebecca, who loses ten years of her life, from her 32nd birthday to present day. Her memory simply vanishes.  Now 42 years old she wakes up in the infirmary, recovered from concussion to find she's still married (to Daniel – an aging rock star).  Apparently she lives in Browns Bay and works in the city as a graphic designer capacity.  But how did she get here?  In the missing ten years many things happen to her and Daniel – deaths, illness, heartaches and good times.  But like the loss of a hard drive, her data banks are missing the files.

So the novel is an exploration of those years, and the consequences as the results finally start to dawn on Rebecca.  Karen writes a well crafted book with tensions, curve balls, even a strange 'stalker' and a bitch of an unsympathetic boss.  But at the heart is her marriage which has, hidden under surface many secrets.

Although the story is straightforward, Karen offers some very insightful writings on grief, loss and the nature of memory. You have to wonder about how it protects itself in order to process trauma.  one such is Rebecca's brush with breast cancer, based on the author’s own experiences, and the way her memory chooses to file away that incident.

Mum says she learnt a lot about the physical experience of cancer and of the emotional steamroller it brings with it.  But for her, it was the journey that mattered.  She's always after a few good yarns.  The unfinished threads bothered her a bit and she found Rebecca and Daniel a little wooden at times.  If it had been an American novel, she said, then she would have suspended the belief.  But in New Zealand such people can not exist - not in her imagination.  She thought Daniel was a bit limp.  Why didn't he fight back or become more emotional.  He was too - accepting.  And, unlike any Hollywood lead he couldn't bring himself to tell his wife of one terribly tragic event, or  even that they were on the verge of separating when she experienced the memory loss.  Such a book would have saved that up for the inevitable bombshell.

She loved the gutsy friend Julie for endlessly berating Daniel for his inability to tell his wife what was happening and spends her time as Rebecca's protector.

It was also very annoying that this was, yet again an 'Auckland' novel.  There are so many TV shows from Filthy Rich to Westside that just seem to forge the rest of us are here.  Bring back Crumpy and his rural tales, I say.  The love affair with real estate, cafes, transport woes and such is tired and the gloss fades quickly  - cliched and cringing.

But don't read to much into all this,  Karen's created a good read for a quiet Sunday afternoon or a plane journey.  Isn't good to escape into another world.  It took mum out of the retirement village for a few days, at least.

Brushstrokes of Memory
by Karen McMillan
Published by McKenzie Publishing

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