WE laugh at our “senior” moments. I’ve had many. There are more days than I’d care to admit where I find a colleague standing by my desk and dangling my car-keys/mobile/name tag in front me while rolling his/her eyes.

Laughable? Definitely. But deep down, the thought of losing my memories (and my mind) have kept me awake some nights as I wonder whether those laughs-inducing episodes might be a precursor to something more sinister.

The fear of losing our memories sits deeply within many of us. A study carried out by Alzheimer’s Society in 2016 found that dementia is the most feared health condition in the UK, perhaps explaining also why almost two-thirds of people surveyed (62 per cent) felt a diagnosis would mean their life was over.

The subject of dementia, or at least a version of it, forms the premise of Malaysian author Felicia Yap’s astounding debut into the literary world called Yesterday.

“Dementia scares the living daylights out of all of us,” she said in an interview with the Evening Standard.

“To forget our own pasts is to forget our identities and sense of self. That’s why we’re obsessed with recording everything on our smartphones, taking selfies and tweeting — because they’re forms of remembering. I wanted to tell a story that taps deep into our innermost fears.”

WORLD WITHOUT MEMORIES

A frightening event had taken place in Yap’s dystopian world. People seem to have lost their long-term memories due to some unidentified genetic mishap, leading to a world fragmented by two different classes of people — the Monos, who can only remember the past 24 hours, and the Duos, whose short-term memories fare slightly better with their 48-hour recall.

They’re born with total recall but at the age of 18 (for Monos) and 23 (for Duos), the disorder kicks in and they lose their ability to remember beyond a day or two. They retain basic facts about themselves — names, spouses, jobs, addresses — but the hard-drives in their brains crash every 24 or 48 hours.

Society’s only lifeline to some semblance of living lies in the form of the iDiary (a tongue-in-cheek jab at Apple no doubt as an interesting version of Steve Jobs who’s a “Duo” in the book invented this device!). “Readers in Asia absolutely love the technological side of the story,” said Yap to BookBrunch. “It’s interesting because we’re increasingly reliant on Google searches and Wikipedia entries, which paradoxically makes it harder to remember.”

Every night, responsible citizens update that day’s details into their iDiaries and the next morning, the world’s citizens reach out for this device to catch up with where they left off with their lives. The catch? Sometimes diaries are merely records of the versions they want to tell themselves. Or remember.

“I wanted to explore the slippery nature of memory and how it’s connected to self-delusion. Apparently, 80 per cent of what we remember isn’t actually what happened. That’s why in Yesterday, iDiaries are used to record the past — but even then, is it fake or fact? I’m interested in the lies we choose to tell ourselves to cultivate the life or past we prefer,” explained Yap.

WHEN IT’S SAFER TO FORGET

Classes are divided by how much each group can remember. The Monos are generally looked down upon and mentally circumscribed by their inability to recall anything beyond a day. This excludes them from holding high office or demanding jobs that the Duos get to enjoy. In this stratified society, Yap introduces us to Claire and Mark, a rare mixed-class marriage of Mono and Duo.

Claire is a conscientious Mono housewife while Mark is a novelist-turned-politician Duo, whose marriage is a glowing example of a potential new vision of tolerance and equality between the two classes. At least it looks that way on the outside.

Within the four walls of their home, Claire Evans wakes up in a sobbing, hysterical state. She can’t understand why as her iDiary does not reveal anything out of the ordinary. She only understands that it was “something nightmarish” but the details of that has escaped her mind forever.

Her husband, on the other hand, is condescending and remote. He’s turned his marriage into a cause of sorts, underscoring his ongoing MP campaign. He wants to be a Duo in touch with the needs, the hopes and fears of the Mono masses of Britain. After all, he’s married to one.

Then a beautiful woman is found dead, and dumped In England’s River Cam. Secrets that are locked within the iDiaries of seemingly perfectly constructed lives start to unravel with breathtaking haste.

The dead woman is soon revealed to be Mark’s mistress and he becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Enters Hans Richardson, a tenacious police detective whose determination to solve the crime within 24 hours is due to the fact that he’s a Mono who’s masquerading as a Duo. How can a murder be solved when memories are constantly erased? How can anyone hope to learn the truth?

STORY WORTH REMEMBERING

Murder, mystery, love, hate — Yesterday contains all the components of a riveting thriller. And Yap certainly scores on all fours. However, it’s not so much a futuristic science fiction story as it is an unusual story about love and forgiveness.

“My take on love is that it could be completely instinctive. Accumulated memories, kind acts and the sacrifices people make also feed into our idea of love,” remarked Yap.

And now Hollywood’s calling. “My agent is already turning down offers!” she shared. “Right now, I’m holding out for the right team.”

With a second novel under way called Today which is a prequel to Yesterday and set before everyone lost their memory, the Cheras-born Yap has proven what we secretly knew all along — that with some imagination and a lot of hard work, anything is possible, even a brilliant best-selling novel that’s hard to forget.

What’s Hot: If the scary thought of dementia keeps me up some nights, Yesterday certainly ate up my sleeping hours in an effort to finish it at one go. It’s not so much a science-fiction nor set in a far dystopian future like Hunger Games but more of a Fatal Attraction with a memory-impaired set of characters. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining. You mean you didn’t enjoy Fatal Attraction? Don’t bluff!

What’s Not: It’s doesn’t hold any deep context about society, technology and despite the premise of a dystopian world, it really is a psychological thriller more than anything else. The characters are not particularly likeable — and some you’d wish you could forget yourself. But never mind annoying characters and other slight weaknesses; at least Yap’s laughing all the way to the bank with her six-figure book advance!

elena@nst.com.my

Yesterday

Author: Felicia Yap

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Pages: 393

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