Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m thrilled to be reviewing Judith Barrow’s engrossing #FamilySaga – The Memory. This is the story about Irene, growing up in a dysfunctional family with a horrible mother, Lilian, and the bond Irene carries for her little sister Rose who was born with Down Syndrome, and how that bond dictated the choices Irene made in her life decisions. Familial conflict and a mother/daughter story of complexity.
I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped.
Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose.
Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.
“…A book that is both powerful and moving, exquisitely penetrating. I am drawn in, empathising so intensely with Irene that I feel every twinge of her frustration, resentment, utter weariness and abiding love.” Thorne Moore
“Judith Barrow’s greatest strength is her understanding of her characters and the times in which they live; The Memory is a poignant tale of love and hate in which you will feel every emotion experienced by Irene.” Terry Tyler
The new novel from the bestselling author of the Howarth family saga
My 5 Star Review:
Barrow paints a complex emotional story written in first person where Irene tells her story in two time-frames. One is in present 2002, depicted in a 24 hour time-frame, and the past in flashbacks about what transpired in her life and lead to that one day.
Three women under one roof – Irene, her mother Lilian, and her Nanna, and Sam, Irene’s ever faithful and compassionate boyfriend, are the central characters, as well as little sister Rose, born with Down Syndrome, who dies at the age of 8 years old, and the secrets about her death that keep Irene connected to the house they grew up in together. The burning secret Irene carries will take a monumental twist near the end of this book. Rose is an embarrassment to her rotten mother Lilian, and Irene and Nanna are the ones who look after Rose.
Rose’s death creates a bigger distance between Irene and Lilian, spurring Irene’s anticipation to finally move away from home and finish her schooling for her dream to become a teacher. Only, there are obstacles at every milestone for Irene from her demanding, needy and lacking of compassion mother.
Lilian is a complicated, moody, miserable bitch, whose husband has left her, leaving Irene to put up with Lilian’s antics on a daily basis – seemingly no matter how far Irene flees does not stop Lilian and her demands. Thank goodness for Sam. Sam knows Lilian well and knows how she gets under Irene’s skin and staunchly supports Irene’s decisions, despite them often leaving Sam in second place to Irene’s worries concerning her mother and the indelible bond that remains between Rose and Irene even after her death.
Irene is the designated carer for everyone in this book – first Rose, then her Nanna, then Sam’s sick father, then her sick father, then her sick (in more ways than one, mother) – a modern day Florence Nightingale.
Sam is the ideal boyfriend and then husband who adores Irene. He’s been through a lot with Irene and her family woes, causing delays for them to make a life together. When they finally do make their life complete, once again ‘mother’ calls in her neediness. The mother who never had the time of day for Irene makes her a lucrative offer, which once again turns into a bad deal and should have had Irene running like a dog on fire. But instead, she flees back to her mother leaving Sam disappointed and dumbfounded.
The twist at the end focuses on the painful secret Irene has carried with her since Rose’s death. A lot of drama ensues between Irene and her terrible, ungrateful, undeserving mother as Irene once again sacrifices her happiness with Sam in order to pacify her mother. Irene is a great character of strength who takes on all the family problems in her selfless good and compassionate nature, even risking losing the love of her life, but does she? You’ll have to read to find out!