At its outset, Mister Memory has the intimate yet informal detailing of an adult fable or fairy tale. This makes sense, given that its author, Marcus Sedgwick, has published a number of YA books that include fantasy, myths and graphic novels.
Mister Memory introduces readers to Marcel Després, a handsome, naïve and uncommon young man whose extraordinary mind lands him in big trouble. For Marcel, every tiny action and word—the details of every moment in his life—is indelibly recorded in his mind. He’s literally unable to forget. For a long time he’s unaware that he possesses this unique trait—or burden. He simply thinks everyone’s mind works that way.
Unable to hold down a job in Paris of 1899, Marcel finally becomes a popular cabaret hit as “Mister Memory,” a moniker that may evoke for some the Hitchcockian character in The 39 Steps, a 1939 film full of dark, comic moments.
Sedgwick’s narrative soon turns into a clever, absorbing mystery after Marcel is arrested for killing his wife upon discovering her in bed with a lover. Instead of doing a stint in jail—the usual Parisian punishment for murdering an unfaithful wife—Marcel is whisked away to a mental hospital for the criminally insane, and the case is summarily closed like the slamming of a door.
Inspector Petit of the Paris prefecture realizes there is more to the story, at a level that involves the highest realms of law enforcement as well as the lowest echelons of Parisian society. A photograph of Marcel’s wife, also a cabaret performer, sets Petit on a dangerous path to discovery and action.
Mister Memory is an extraordinary trip into the deep recesses of mind and memory, brought to light little by little as Marcel’s physician comes to learn more about his patient’s inner world. Dr. Morel tells him, “You have taught me something. Through you I have come to see that there is no such thing as truth. That all we ever really know is perception.”
Petit, who struggles with memories of his own that he’d like to banish, belatedly comes to realize that “each memory is itself only a construction of infinitely small moments of time, each of which has no meaning in itself. It is only the story we make by linking such moments together, and the narrative that creates, that gives us any meaning.”