First published in the U.S. in 2016
Originally published in Sweden
My rating: 3?
Image from Goodreads
Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Short Of It:
What a strange and unique and ultimately unsatisfying story. If you don't mind ambiguous endings, this might be for you; otherwise, it's probably not worth it.
The Long Of It:
I can't remember ever having such a tough time deciding on a rating for a book, but "Everything I Don't Remember" is not like any other book I've read.
Samuel, a young Swedish man, dies in a terrible car wreck, and the novel is an attempt by an unnamed writer to piece together what really happened: was it an accident, suicide, or something more nefarious? The writer interviews several people in Samuel's life: his best friend, his roommate, his ex-girlfriend, his mother and his dementia-addled grandmother, and the story is basically a transcript of these conversations. It's quickly apparent that every person remembers things -- and Samuel -- quite differently, and that there was a lot going on in Samuel's life at the end.
Far more interesting than the story is the way the book is written, in very brief, alternating snippets of conversation from the interviews. There are no quote marks, no introduction to who is speaking, and segments of the conversation -- the unnamed writer's questions -- are left out entirely. It was initially confusing, but once I adjusted I really enjoyed this unconventional and creative format for storytelling. The characters have pretty distinct voices, and it was usually fairly easy to distinguish who was talking, though I admit I did have to double-check a few times. Overall, it was a pretty easy read, and I was anxious to find out what happened.
Then came the big problem: I felt the story barreling toward an explosive, revelatory conclusion -- and then, nothing. The book ends without really answering any questions or giving any concrete information, leaving the reader to puzzle out what she thinks happened. Except that I was so put off by the conclusion -- and honestly, I never really bonded with any of the characters -- that I hardly even bothered trying to decide what to make of it. I closed the back cover and already, a day later, I can feel the story slipping from my mind.
It was innovative and gripping, but it was also unmemorable and ended with a fizzle instead of a bang. I guess the book makes points about the larger topic of memory as well as a handful of completely different subjects like friendship, cultural assimilation and the treatment of refugees, but this straightforward and simple-minded reader just wanted to know what the hell happened to Samuel and why, as well as the identity of the writer with a mysterious interest in Samuel's death. I'm typically not a fan of vague, confusing and/or philosophical endings in novels (all of which describe the conclusion of "Everything I Don't Remember"), so I was left feeling like the entire book was rather a waste of time. However, if that type of ending doesn't bother you, the book does have some things going for it and it may be worth checking out.