Amnesia storylines. Some love it. Some hate it.
But it doesn’t change the fact that it will continue to be used.
It’s very popular in the romance genre, especially to heighten angst. What better way for a character to miss a person (without killing or sending him away) than to make him forget about you? What better way to angst about your regrets for taking the loved one for granted than when he does not even remember ever loving you?
But the amnesia storyline is not solely the weapon of romantic angst. Some authors use it as a way to reinvent a character (ie making a previously establish character do things they would never do had they had their memories). While others use amnesia to heighten suspense (especially in thrillers wherein the knowledge the character lost may be critical to his survival).
And then there are some who use it to horrify, especially when a character forgets his memories as an subconscious way to protect himself from mental trauma.
There’s just far too many books that explore the amnesia trope. But it seems to remain the same when it comes to the amnesiac trying to recover what he lost. In most cases, it’s not just the memory but also the sense of well-being and security they think they might have by reclaiming their memory. Memory is closely tied to one’s identity after all. And it is pretty important for the amnesiac to know how he got to where he is.
Another interesting thing to note for the amnesiac character is that the loss of memory is sort of a crossroads for him. There’s often this question of whether they continue on with the path forged prior to the memory loss or do they create a new path.
Personally, I think it’s inevitable. Wiping a person’s memories makes him akin to a blank slate. He doesn’t know where he comes from and who he decided to be. Which makes him a different person from who he was before and unlikely to be influenced by previous experiences and biases. Thus, there’s this great possibility of him making a life that’s different than what his old self envisioned
But in any amnesia storyline, let’s not forget about the loved ones of said amnesiacs. It’s always a terrible thing to know that a person you love doesn’t remember you. It remains the same for any book that the loved ones (at least the ones who truly love the amnesiac) will want to be there for them. Though some may falter due to how difficult it can be. A lot of them remain strong in the face of adversity and learn to live with this new reality.
Here are some of the books that use the amnesia trope to great effect (at least IMO)
Hopeless by Colleen Hoover
Homeschooled Sky finally got her mom to let her go to public school. A good way to socialize considering her mom is a bit of a luddite with all her shunning of television, computers and cellphones. Unfortunately, her best friend (who also happens to be her next-door neighbor) will be going abroad. It is at this point in time when she meets Dean Holder, a guy who seems to want to know all about her. She’s attracted to him despite their first meeting starting off with him seeming to think he knows her.
This book comes with a trigger warning for rape and dark themes. But the book is well-written. And despite my warning of dark themes, I also want to say that there’s also hope and friendship and light in this book to balance it out.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Rook starts off with a young woman who lost all her memories. Only to find out that her “old self” wrote her a letter (or rather several letters) with the following information: Her name is Myfanwy (Pronounced Miffany, rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas. Her old self has long known (aka received prior oracular warnings) that she will lose all her memories completely and permanently. And finally she is a high-ranking member of the Checquy, a group of people with supernatural powers who fight other supernatural entities, phenomena and general weirdness that pose a threat to Britain as a whole.
To find out who almost killed her and caused the loss of memories, Myfanwy decides to resume the old Myfanwy’s day-to-day existence without letting others know of her memory loss
Definitely one of the most original works I’ve read. Sure it uses a lot of familiar tropes. But I admire the strength and intelligence of the main character. I also like how her amnesia is a way to reinvent herself. There’s definitely no way she can get her old memories back. But at least her old self was hypercompetent enough to let her know about who she was before.
And I just like the originality of it all
Forget You by Jennifer Echols
An accident causes Zoey to forget the events of the last night. But as she soon finds out, a LOT happened that night. For one thing, her boyfriend is avoiding her. And Doug (the guy she can’t stand) is suddenly very friendly with her.
It’s no secret that I love the enemies-to-lovers trope. So if you like it too, better check this book out. Unlike other examples, this book is only about a partial memory loss. But what if a lot of significant life-altering things happened on the night you forgot? Definitely a fun read
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Ruby lives in a dystopia where a lot of kids suddenly developed abilities and are incarcerated in “rehabilitation camps.” Some kids are telekinetics. Some are pyrokinetics. Ruby had the misfortune to discover her powers when her kiss causes her parents to forget all about her.
This is actually an exciting read (IMO). Personally, I like it for how it develops Ruby’s character. She grows into her power. Her experiences in the camp and her adventures outside it have shaped her from a girl that everyone saw as weak into a girl who is a force to be reckoned with.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
While not dealing with actual amnesia, I want to include this book because the character deals with loved ones not knowing him (at least in some of his lives).
Harry August was born illegitimate to an aristocratic father and the house maid (who died in childbirth). He was given to a servant and his wife for adoption. He lived. And then died.
And then he realizes he was born again into the same life. His mother is still the same maid and his father is the same aristocrat. He is again adopted by the same couple. Needless to say, his reaction to his “second life” ended with him in the mental asylum.
He does better in his third life and so forth, taking on different occupations and even meeting the love of his lives. Despite the different progression of each life and the different way each life ends, he is born again into the same life. Things get better when he finds out that he is not alone. That throughout time, there are others like him who live and are reborn into the same life. The Chronos Club allows its members to communicate with members who lived in the past and those who live in the future.
And it is at the end of his eleventh life that he receives an urgent message from the future. The future is ending much sooner than it should. And he needs to help stop it
Definitely one of the best books I’ve read so far. Harry hasn’t had things easy especially when he’s met the same people before, even loved some of them. But his loved ones don’t know him. And then add to that the problem of the future ending sooner that it should, Harry has a lot on his plate