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Monday, 13 September 2021

‘The Memory’ by Judith Barrow

Published by Honna Welsh Women’s Press,
19 March 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91290513-2 (PB)

Euthanasia is the greyest of grey areas in criminal terms, especially when the person on the receiving end is incapable of making such an irreversible decision. For thirty years Irene has lived with the memory of her mother Lilian standing at her sister’s bedside holding a pillow. No one has ever talked about it, but it has stood between mother and daughter ever since, a dark shadow that made an already fraught relationship almost unbearable 

And now Irene and Lilian are inextricably bound by the cruellest of fates. Lilian is in the most demanding phase of dementia, and before the disease took hold she refused point-blank to give Irene power of attorney. They are joint owners of the house they live in, Irene’s childhood home, but with no control over her mother’s financial affairs she cannot sell it to pay for Lilian’s care and has to do everything herself. Through a nightmare twenty-four hours, during which Lilian’s demands become increasingly challenging, memories flood into Irene’s mind and she relives the childhood that led to that appalling moment and the frustrated adulthood that followed. 

Rose, the dead sister, was a Downs baby, and Lilian rejected her from the outset. Irene, on the other hand, fell in love. Her adoration of her small sister, and the motherly care she lavishes on her is portrayed in almost tear-jerking detail, as is Rose’s affectionate nature, a common feature among Downs children. Irene is not without support, even after her father, who loves Rose but cannot deal with Lilian, leaves to set up home with another woman. There’s Sam, her childhood friend and later sweetheart, and Nanna, who willingly takes on the burden of the household. The network of complex relationships and all their ups and downs form the foundation of the novel.  

Whether The Memory is a crime novel in any conventional sense is open to conjecture. As a perfectly observed account of the last stages of dementia, and a picture of a family riven and distorted by both tragedy and great love, it is a masterclass. But it is also as meticulously and tautly structured as any psychological thriller. As well as vividly drawn characters and a rich sense of place, there are edge-of-the-seat moments of tension, and a twist at the end that I would never have predicted, obvious though it was the moment it was revealed.

Judith Barrow has taken two emotionally charged situations and woven them into a heart-wrenching story which had me close to tears more than once. Long before the end I had stopped caring whether it qualified as crime. I simply didn’t want to stop reading.
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Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Judith Barrow originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines,has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David's College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful review, Lynne. Thank you so much. I'm thrilled that you enjoyed reading The Memory and felt the same emotions that I did when writing the story. I'm very grateful for your views.

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