Book Review: The Memory Keeper's Daughter

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Title: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Author: Kim Edwards
Publisher: Penguin UK (26 April 2007)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Price: Rs. 225 on Amazon
Pages: 432

This was just another random book that I found on Goodreads. What caught my attention was the title and the haunting cover of the book. Till date when I look at that frail white dress, it breaks my heart. I hadn't even heard about the author before that. The ratings were pretty good too but I kept going back to the title. It was so beautiful and the blurb was exciting enough for me to place an order for the book. I have learnt to read books with zero expectations these days. I start with an empty slate and work my way up through it. 'The Night Circus' was the first book that I read without expectations and it just blew my mind! I started this one the same way too.

Dr. David Henry had a very difficult childhood. Poor parents and a sister who suffered from Down Syndrome. While David loved his sister, most of his memories include regular visits to the hospital for her various ailments and that of his mother crying all the time. Clearly, not a pleasant atmosphere to grown up in. When his sister dies at the age of thirteen, he is heartbroken and decides to not end up like his parents. When he is accepted to a medical school with full scholarship, he jumps in at the opportunity. After the death of his father, his mom goes on to live with her sister leaving David to focus on his life. David becomes a very good doctor and marries Norah who he loves immensely. Norah is very young when compared to him and is happy being taken care of by him. Within the first year of their marriage, they are all set to become a family. David has only one goal. He doesn't want his family to go through what he had to.

In early March of 1964, Norah develops labor pains and thanks to the weather outside, David is forced to do the delivery himself at his clinic. His loyal nurse Caroline Gill comes in to assist him. Norah already has names in her mind for the child. Paul, for a boy and Phoebe, for a girl. With the help of a episiotomy, Paul soon comes out perfect and healthy. Just when the new parents are rejoicing, Norah feels another contraction and David realizes that she's having another baby. Twins! Norah delivers their daughter Phoebe and passes out. David notices that their daughter is not like any normal child. She is small and certainly something was not right with her. It doesn't take him long to realize that his daughter has been born with Down Syndrome. Thinking of the difficulty he and his parents had with his sister, he does the unthinkable and hands his daughter to Caroline and asks her to leave the baby at an institution. He then tells his wife that their daughter died at birth.

Norah is devastated by the loss of her daughter and arranges a memorial service for her. Meanwhile, Caroline takes Phoebe to the institution. When she sees the terrible conditions there, she walks away with Phoebe and decides to leave her job and move to a new city to start a fresh life with Phoebe as her daughter. She gets a job as a nurse to a wealthy patient and soon finds love in Al, a truck driver who helped her the night Phoebe was born. Caroline brings up Phoebe as her own daughter and does keep David updated about this fact and send him letters and pictures time and again. David, though shocked at first, begins sending money for his daughter still keeping the secret from his wife and son who are growing distant from him. Norah is unable to get the tragedy out of her mind and starts living a parallel life. Paul, who wants to be a musician doesn't resonate with the mighty ambitions that his father has for him. The family has broken apart, even though they live together. On their first anniversary, Norah gifts David a camera called 'The Memory Keeper' and he pursues photography as a hobby soon after.

The story spans over twenty five years with both Paul and Phoebe growing up in different situations. Paul, the privileged son who wants different things from life. Phoebe, despite her mental disabilities is growing up to be healthy child and thanks to Caroline, takes up mainstream education. Soon, she finds a job and is doing very well for herself. David keeps receiving photographs of his daughter from Caroline and he continues to send money. Phoebe grows up thinking Al and Caroline are her parents. How long can David hold on to his secret? Will Norah and Paul ever find out about Phoebe's existence?

While the story is brilliant, the writing is not that easy. Dialogues are written very well and the story is well paced. What bothered me the most was the narration. Sometimes the narration went on for pages without a single dialogue. The story is well thought of and the author does take us into the lives of the main characters. I cannot flaw the story, but I probably would have ended it in a better way. There always was a thought in my head as to how would Norah and Paul react when they hear about Phoebe and who would tell them, but the answer turned out to be the simplest of all. The only level of mystery in the book is about when the secret would explode, but the build up towards it is very well done. This book goes on to show that no matter how strong a marriage or any relationship is, it can all come down thanks to a single situation. Or a secret.

This is a very good book and despite my non existent maternal instinct, I could feel for Phoebe. While she is the secret, more focus is on her adoptive mother Caroline. The book traces the lives of David and Caroline and their respective children. David's character was well written and I could empathize with him on the difficult childhood he had. His choice to send away his daughter was obviously questionable, but he did that to spare his family from the pain he had to go through. Caroline is the perfect nurse, kind and loving and fights hard for her daughter, never once letting her feel that she's not her own. Paul as the angry young man is good too and his character is justified. Norah was an intriguing character. From a weakling battling grief, she turns into someone strong later but does continue to succumb to the loss of her daughter. I would have liked to see more of Phoebe and probably would have liked it if she had a few chapters dedicated to what she thinks and does. Life from her point of view alone. That I missed in this book. Otherwise, this is a book about love, emotions, loss and recovery. It must be read just for its story line.


Verdict: Brilliant story and pace, the narration could have been much better.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

13 comments:

  1. Nice blog.Im content marketer.love to read new things

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  2. The story seems so lovely. I will go for it :) Thank you, Soumya. You write amazing reviews!

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    1. Thank you Shalini. Let me know how you like it.

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  3. I picked up this book from the Library after seeing your GoodReads update! :D Awesome review, Soumya! <3

    I loved the narrative part of the book, and I personally feel that Kim Edwards' style of writing would be more suited to non-fiction. I didn't really like her dialogues, as they seemed too forced and simple. Not sassy or witty or anything like that.

    I still haven't reached the ending of the book, and I hope to complete it today! :)

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    1. Thank you dear Mithila :)

      I did not like the narration much. You are right lil one, maybe non-fiction would make more sense for her. I liked the story a lot though. And yes, the title.

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  4. Wow! Not only does the book sound intriguing, but also your review gets full marks, Soumya!
    I was secretly hoping you would disclose the climax! :)
    The one thing that David wanted to avoid in his life, is the thing that happened because of the decision he made for his daughter. I was thinking he would decide to bring up his daughter in a better way, or some such thing. But, then it wouldn't make the story as brilliant, would it?
    Loved your review, as I said before, and looking forward to reading the climax on my own!
    Thank you! And, I, too, loved the title! :)

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    1. Thank you Shilpa. Do read it and let me know how you liked it.

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  5. This seems like my kind of book. I like emotional dramas. Let me put it on my TBR list.

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    1. Let me know how you liked it, Rachna.

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  6. I'm adding this to my TBR. Can always count on your reviews.
    Plus it seems like my kind of book.

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    1. Thank you Naba, let me know how you like it.

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