The Memory Collectors by Kim Neville
Today’s featured book is Kim Neville’s literary debut, THE MEMORY COLLECTORS. It was an engrossing, unexpected read, so grab a cup of coffee and take a moment to learn more about this book.
I received an advanced copy of the book from Atria Paperback; all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you purchase through them.
SYNOPISThe Memory Collectors by Kim Neville
Published by Simon and Schuster on March 16, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Fantasy, Contemporary
Buy on Amazon
Perfect for fans of The Scent Keeper and The Keeper of Lost Things, an atmospheric and enchanting debut novel about two women haunted by buried secrets but bound by a shared gift and the power the past holds over our lives.
Ev has a mysterious ability, one that she feels is more a curse than a gift. She can feel the emotions people leave behind on objects and believes that most of them need to be handled extremely carefully, and—if at all possible—destroyed. The harmless ones she sells at Vancouver’s Chinatown Night Market to scrape together a living, but even that fills her with trepidation. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Harriet hoards thousands of these treasures and is starting to make her neighbors sick as the overabundance of heightened emotions start seeping through her apartment walls.
When the two women meet, Harriet knows that Ev is the only person who can help her make something truly spectacular of her collection. A museum of memory that not only feels warm and inviting but can heal the emotional wounds many people unknowingly carry around. They only know of one other person like them, and they fear the dark effects these objects had on him. Together, they help each other to develop and control their gift, so that what happened to him never happens again. But unbeknownst to them, the same darkness is wrapping itself around another, dragging them down a path that already destroyed Ev’s family once, and threatens to annihilate what little she has left.
The Memory Collectors casts the everyday in a new light, speaking volumes to the hold that our past has over us—contained, at times, in seemingly innocuous objects—and uncovering a truth that both women have tried hard to bury with their pasts: not all magpies collect shiny things—sometimes they gather darkness.
I was drawn to this book first by its lovely cover, the comparisons to The Keeper of Lost Things, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, and Practical Magic (ALL of which I loved) and by the synopsis. I love magical realism, and this was a fresh take on the idea of emotions attaching to objects. The Memory Collectors is a bit sadder and darker than The Keeper of Lost Things. It’s a story about our connections to things (and the emotions they hold), letting go of the hold that our past has on us, and healing the emotional wounds that we carry with us.
The Memory Collectors is the story of two women with the same gift (or curse, depending on who you ask) of feeling the emotions that people leave on objects. The story opens with a flashback to when our main character Ev is a child. It’s a sweet scene of a happy childhood memory revolving around a balsa wood glider. Discarded after it is accidentally broken by her little sister, it is later found in a box of other objects by Harriet, who is a collector (and protector) of things found.
In The Memory Collectors, Ev’s ability to feel the emotion of an object is very strong – so much so, that she can see the stories behind the emotions in the object itself. It’s more of curse to her – she refers to the emotions left behind as a “stain” – and goes to great lengths to protect herself from being overwhelmed by the emotions she senses. It’s made her life lonely and sparse. To support herself, she scavenges and sells items with (mostly) safe emotions in Vancouver’s Night Market.
Harriet also shares Ev’s gift, although her’s isn’t as strong, she only senses the more obvious emotions. However, she sees the emotions in a positive light. She refers to them as “bright things”. Unfortunately, Harriet’s collection of bright things and their mass of emotion is making the neighbors ill and the hoarding earns her an eviction notice. She decides she wants to create a museum of all the objects she’s collected so that she can share them (and the good emotions they carry) to others – and she wants Ev to curate it for her.
“Beauty. Joy.” Ev stops directly in front of Harriet. “What about the things that aren’t bright? What about the dark, ugly ones?” She gestures toward the top in Harriet’s hand. “That top, it’s not just tainted with longing. There’s some love in there, sure. But there’s also pain and resentment and bitterness and even a little hatred. And it’s old, but it’s strong. It’s got a lot of emotion for such a small ‘bright’ thing.”
“You want to know what I think about that top?” To Harriet’s surprise, tears spring to Ev’s eyes. “I think the child it belonged to was unforgivably betrayed by the person who gave it to her.”
The story unfolds slowly at first, and is interspersed with chapters showing flashbacks of Ev and Noemi’s childhood. The writing is evocative and a bit moody, complementing the pacing. It’s a bit quirky and whimsical and sad at the same time, and the last third of the book take a turn that is dark and unexpected.
This is a book about people who have all endured some kind of personal trauma and how they heal, and how they learn to let go of the past. As such, they are all pretty deeply flawed, and that makes them interesting and unpredictable. In an interesting twist for books in this genre, Ev initially doesn’t view her “gift” as a good thing and takes drastic measures to protect herself. She’s prickly, defensive, and unlikable at times, but she slowly won me over.
What I would have liked (a tiny bit) more of
I honestly wanted to see more of Owen’s character. I think there is a lot beneath the surface, and while the story hints at why he is so attached to Ev, I would have loved to learn a little more about him.
The other thing I really wanted more of was a little bit more backstory on Harriet’s house. There was something else hinted at when the story got really dark but I was too focused on Ev and Noemi at that point in time. Fine – I really wanted a little more backstory on all the characters and how they related to Ev.
The Memory Collectors was a thought provoking novel about the weight of the emotions carried in both our past and the objects we bring with us, and about letting go. It’s a wonderful read for those who enjoy magical realism and don’t mind a bit of a dark, dramatic, (and somewhat unsettling) turn near the end. It’s a bit of a mix of emotions – not unlike the ones found in the objects Ev and Harriet hold.
Premise: A girl who can sense emotions in objects (and sees things as tainted) meets an older woman who also senses emotions in objects (but has been collecting them to the point where it is making everyone in her building sick) meet. The older woman has a plan for her collection that she thinks will help people; in the process of building it, the younger girl comes to terms with her “gift.”
Perfect for: readers who like magical realism
Or, might want to take a pass: people who don’t like stories that have a dark edge
Genre(s): magical realism, fantasy, contemporary fiction
Trigger/content warning: hoarding, guns, murder