The Memory Police was first published in Japan in 1994, before being translated into English in 2019. Discuss what the reception may have been like towards the novel in Japan at that time, versus when it was published for an Anglophone audience 25 years later. What elements of the novel do you think made it resonate with readers, across both decades and continents?
The novel takes place on an unnamed island which is overseen by an oppressive government-run militia. What countries and communities, throughout history, do you see the author drawing inspiration from?
The Memory Police has been described as a parable. The majority of the island’s residents are subject to a collective amnesia - they endure a process of forgetting things, including objects, people and processes. They then forget they have forgotten. What do you think the author intended these losses to represent, beyond the literal?
The protagonist in The Memory Police, our narrator, is an author who is writing a novel. Within her writing is the character of a typist, a woman whose voice is vanishing while trapped by her lover in a building. How are the characters of the protagonist and the typist intertwined?
After moving into the hiding place, the narrator and R become embroiled in a romantic relationship, despite R having a wife and child at home. In some ways, the relationship seems superfluous – the narrator and R were already friends, with a fruitful working relationship. Discuss your personal take on R and the narrator’s affair, and how you feel it served the overarching plot.
At points within the novel, various elements of the natural work are affected. When calendars disappear, the winter continues, and spring never emerges. Floral and fauna vanish. While fantastical in the novel, these elements could be read now as tangible concerns due to the ongoing effects of climate change. To what extent could the novel be read as a cli-fi novel?
The disappearances in the novel are enforced by the Memory Police, a sinister group of fascist officers who operate with impunity as part of a totalitarian regime. Yet the author offers little to no exposition on who the Memory Police actually are, such as whether they report to a higher, governmental power. Who do you believe them to be, and what do they represent?
‘Men who start by burning books end by burning other men.’ (Page 175). At this point in the novel, books become the next item subject to enforced disappearances. Discuss the meaning of this quote, and what the author may be referencing, beyond the content of the novel.
Birds feature heavily throughout The Memory Police as a recurring motif. What do they symbolise, and what connections does the narrator lose as a result of their disappearance?
‘It’s true, I know, that there are more gaps in the island than there used to be. When I was a child, the whole place seemed…how can I put this?…a lot fuller, a lot more real. But as things got thinner, more full of holes, our hearts got thinner, too, diluted somehow. I suppose that kept things in balance. And even when that balance begins to collapse, something remains. Which is why you shouldn’t worry.’ (Page 54). As the novel progresses, the inhabitants of the island lose more and more. Yet they do not grieve or commemorate. Discuss their journey, physically, psychologically and emotionally - what changes do you see in them by the end of the novel, and why?
Yoko Ogawa drew on her fascination with Anne Frank, which inspired the hiding place for R, the author’s editor. Many critics and readers have also compared both the content and tone to Orwell’s work and that of Franz Kafka. Where do you see these influences intersecting within the novel?
The author refuses to offer any explanations for the laws that define the island and avoids providing answers for the reader. The ending itself is abstract and ambiguous. How did you interpret the conclusion of The Memory Police, and how did the author’s writing style throughout serve your reading experience?