Margaret Mahy's latest novel could have been titled any of the following: "Echoes," "Impressions," "Bewildering Encounters," or "Patterns," for each of these topics make up the webbing of "Memories."
Jonny Dart relies on the echoes of his past. He and his sister were a successful teenage song and dance team on TV commercials. When Janine fell over a cliff and was killed, Jonny carried the impression that he was partly to blame, or at least his parents would have been happier had he been the one to die.Janine had ". . . seemed to give off light," and through the patterns of dark and light, Jonny's memory goes back to recall the sadness of his life.
Now a troubled New Zealand 19-year-old, he drinks, fights and refuses to work. "Saturated as he was with memory, it seemed he must make his way home through a memory desert, which might drain some of the burden from him. . . . `It isn't one of those great quests. . . .' "
This maze of life - the quest - takes him in search of Bonnie Benedicta, the only other witness to Janene's death. Instead he finds Sophie (or rather she finds Jonny). "A stunted person in a long coat pushing a supermarket cart . . . , wearing a hat like a crimson chamber pot without a handle. She smiled as she came towards him as if he were the very one she had been waiting for. . . ."
Jonny walks Sophie home ("like an obedient dog, he was filled with a credulous enchantment"), finding her living conditions filthy and deplorable. He fits into her vacant life where "no one was at home behind those sweet, faded, blue eyes, no one at all." She believes he is a lover from her youth and spins in and out of reality as bits and pieces of her past come to light. He also finds out that she has been taken advantage of by his former enemy and town bully, Nev, who has stolen from her as a ploy to "pay the rent." Whenever he attempts to leave her house, he realizes a sense of responsibility, and all paths lead back to Sophie's house.
By helping Sophie, Jonny helps himself and resolves the guilt of his past. While his memories have directed his course, they continue to re-direct his life, as well.
"Memory" is a captivating story about a young boy's discovery of self. The conditions that lead up to this metamorphosis are chronicled through flashbacks and memories that are pivotal to the story line; parents who are influential yet evasive, the phantom devils of his youth, the music that beats a decisive anthem to his actions.
Two strong characters are the backbone of the story, a young Jonny with vigor and potential, and a dotty old woman who is wedged between the past and present. It is Sophie who nearly overshadows the young man through a vivid portrayal. She is a remarkable character! Whatever the physical cause of Sophie's condition - Alzheimer's or senility - Mahy has handled it with dignity, grace and reality. Stuffing pigeon holes in a desk with food, clothing and empty cans and wearing a garter belt outside of her clothes is a sign of disorder that ". . . had the mark of a long, slow, solitary evolution, without any outside interference. . . ." This old lady who wets her bed, hides and forgets large amounts of money under the sink and befriends lost cats is so remarkable that one becomes nearly self-conscious about having such a "real" person exposed to the public.
Interlaced throughout "Memory" is factual New Zealand culture, mixed ancestry and the social conflicts between the Maori and the Pakeha.
"The Haunting" and "The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance" both won Carnegie Medals in England for Margaret Mahy, and "Memory" may indeed follow the line of award-winning novels. There is no mistaking the memorable qualities that make it "must" reading for 12-year-olds and above.