Review: Everything I Don’t Remember

Posted September 3, 2016

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Everything I Don’t Remember Everything I Don't Remember by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Translator)
Published by Scribner UK on 2nd June 2016
Genres: European Literature, Contemporary, Mystery
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher

A young man called Samuel dies, but was it an accident or suicide? An unnamed writer with an agenda of his own sets out to piece together Samuel's story. Through conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours, a portrait emerges: the loving grandchild, the reluctant bureaucrat, the loyal friend, the contrived poser. The young man who would do anything for his girlfriend Laide and share everything with his friend Vandad. Until Vandad, marginalised and broke, desperate to get closer to Samuel, drives a wedge between the friends, and Samuel loses them both.

Everything I Don't Remember is an enthralling tale of love and memory. It is also the story of a writer who, in filling out the contours of Samuel's life, is trying to grasp a universal truth - in the end, how do we account for the substance of a life?

A young man, Samuel, is killed in a car crash. But was it an accident or was it suicide? An anonymous author decides to uncover the truth.

Everything I Don’t Remember is written as transcripts from the author’s interviews with Samuel’s family and friends.

At no point does our interviewer tell us who is talking. He jumps from person to person as he relays their memories of Samuel.  Despite this format, it’s actually easy to follow once you become accustomed to it.

This is a work of translated fiction. It’s been translated from Swedish, and is done very well. It’s a very timely novel, relevant to society across Europe right now.

Our anonymous author focusses his interviews on Samuel’s friend Panther, his best friend Vandad and his ex-girlfirend Laide, all in the effort of trying to uncover what happened that April afternoon.

So we jump back and forth between the memories and perspectives of the interviewees. But whose version of events is most accurate? Is Vandad, who tells of his solid relationship with his best friend, actually the free rider that Laide says he is? Are Laide’s memories of life with Samuel accurate or is Vandad’s darker image of her more true?

Basically as we read these accounts we aren’t sure who to trust. Does the truth lie in some kind of middle ground?

I enjoyed the way we jump from character to character without explanation. We go back and forth in time and place. It might sound confusing but it’s actually easy to follow once you get going.

Samuel’s grandmother suffers from dementia and we are repeatedly told of Samuel’s own poor memory. To me, it feels like the broken, jumping narrative echoes the confusion of this condition.

I should also say that this novel is predominately set in Sweden. It has been translated from Swedish, and honestly I’d never have known it was translated; it’s done so well.

While uncovering Samuel’s story, this novel also looks at immigration. Many of the characters we encounter are second generation immigrants. We also see the plight of immigrants in Sweden and the battles they face, through Samuel’s work for the Migration Board and Laide’s profession as a translator. This feels so relevant right now. It’s not a situation apposite to Sweden; it’s an issue that is currently being encountered throughout Europe. I appreciate how this issue is weaved into the story. It adds a different dimension to the novel and encaptures Sweden’s political past and present.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved our unreliable narrators in the form of our interviewees. I loved trying to uncover who Samuel was, from a distance. It’s an interesting way to discover a character, looking from the outside in.

The only thing I would say about this novel is that there is a lack of closure. We are presented with evidence (however flawed it may be) and have to come to our own conclusion.

The uncertainty of the ‘evidence’, the issues of memory loss, dementia, immigration, identity and life experience all make for a fantastic read. I definitely recommend it.