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81. The Memory Police

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We discuss The Memory Police, a haunting dystopian novel that explores questions of power, trauma and state surveillance written by Yoko Ogawa, one of Japan’s leading contemporary novelists. 

Set on an unnamed island, the narrator of The Memory Police describes how every so often something in the inhabitants’ lives will disappear. Birds, roses, books – one by one these things vanish overnight and the next day people wake up to find they have lost the memory of them. The Memory Police then arrive to enforce the disappearance, rounding up and destroying all evidence of the disappeared thing. They are also on the hunt for those few members of the population who have the ability to retain their memories, something hard to disguise. These people too must disappear, but what happens to them? The narrator tries to save her friend, R, by hiding him in a concealed room. But as more and more things disappear it starts to become unclear what she is saving him for.

An uncomfortable read that provoked mixed feelings among Laura’s book group, but which – on reflection – we think could have been one of the best book club books we have ever done. Listen in to hear more. Plus our recommendations for your next book club read.

Have you read it? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.

Book recommendations

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Don’t miss

Our full episode on We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, read in partnership with The Happy Reader, Penguin’s magazine in book club form.

We discussed Piranesi by Susanna Clarke in more depth in our Bookshelf episode 78.


The Memory Police is translated by Stephen Snyder.

The Wired article on The Memory Police that sparked some interesting trains of thought.

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