Amnesia by Michael Ridpath is a look into the dark past of the main character, an older gentleman with retrograde amnesia, and his struggles to remember the horrible secret he knows he harbors somewhere in a deep corner of his mind.
Alastair Cunningham finds himself in the hospital with no clue as to how he got there. Or who he is in the first place. He just can’t remember anything at all.
In the hospital he is told that he had fallen down the stairs, hit his head and lost his memory in the process.
Clémence, a family friend, is asked by her aunt to go to Scotland and take care of him for a bit and try to help him regain his memory. Clémence reluctantly agrees.
When Clémence arrives to the Scottish cottage, she starts looking for clues about Alastair. Upon going through his library, she finds a manuscript written apparently by Alastair himself. She opens the manuscript and begins reading. And soon gets the shock of her life.
With the knowledge she gains from the first chapter of the book, Clémence is now reluctant to continue helping Alastair. Could she be harboring a killer who might have murdered someone in Clémence’s family many years ago?
Yet, despite her misgivings, she decides to remain and help Alastair regain his memory with the manuscript from which she reads him a chapter every day.
The actual story of what happened in the past comes to life during the daily readings. A younger Alastair started writing the memoir going back to his years as a student. But how much of the story is actually true and how much is it fiction?
As Clémence and Alastair are working their way through the manuscript, Alastair can’t but feel that the more he knows, the worse it will get. Could he have really done what the book claims he did some 40 years ago? And if it’s true, is Clémence safe with him today?
Michael Ridpath has an excellent way with words as he describes the places and landscapes of Scotland in winter. The cottage where Alastair is living near the loch is a small piece of heaven. The people from the past come life each with their own hopes, desires and eventual failures.
Alastair is an old man who seems quite innocent and you can’t help but like him. Clémence can’t but feel kindness towards him, and is torn in her willingness to help him remember and her wanting him to suffer for what he apparently did.
Amnesia is a clever British mystery with a haunting quality to it. There are several twists in the plot that come quite unexpected. The story is engrossing and as it unfolds its layers, we see Clémence not only help Alastair regain some of his memory, but also discover a big chunk of her family’s past as well.
The story is a standalone novel, however I will pick up also other books by Michael Ridpath in the future.