The Girl from the Sea, by Shalini Boland
Next to serial killers amnesia is probably the mystery/thriller writer’s best friend, which is interesting as they’re about equally improbable.
I don’t mind a good trope. I would be a poor sci-fi fan without being patient with time travel, alien invasion, escape from dying earth, and the dozens of other well-worn trails walked by sci-fi writers. There are only so many ways to make a story, so much so that Kurt Vonnegut gave a great talk honing some down to line graphs. (You can see it on YouTube and it’s worth watching as a reader or writer.) I suppose my surprise is that lots of mystery stories have a thread of reality. People do get murdered, important items do get stolen, married couples do experience infidelity. It happens daily. Serial killers and amnesia are, I suppose, mystery exotica, and the reader generally at least understands the concept and can identify with it in some way. No one wants to meet that stranger with violent intent. No one wants to wake up with a complete lack of knowledge of one’s existence to date. (Or, there may be some who fantasize that it might happen as an escape from a crappy life.)
In this book a woman wakes in an English hospital with no knowledge of who she is and a bump on her head. It’s pretty lucky that these bumps never strike the language center or it would really disrupt the flow of the book. She’s told that she was found washed up on a beach. Local police interview her and take her fingerprints but her amnesia is so severe that she doesn’t even recognize herself in a mirror.
In a short time she’s introduced to a boyfriend she can’t remember, but who has pictures from their time together, and she returns home.
As the story develops she begins to learn more about her pre-amnesia life, about her family, the people she’s interacted with, and especially herself.
I will not offer any spoilers and much beyond this point would do that. I will say that if you’re a budding mystery writer here’s a tip: don’t make the person responsible for most of the mayhem nearly flawless while all those around that character seem to be hiding something. It makes them stand out as the probable bad guy.
For me, this failure spoiled the book for me starting about halfway through. In addition, much of the book hinges on the premise that a person with amnesia not only forgets everything but also gets a clean slate on personality.
This is a so-so book. I gave it three stars at the vendor I bought it from. Nothing about Roland’s book says she’s a bad writer or lacks potential for better. This book should have been talked through with a better editor and could have been fixed nicely with another rewrite.