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Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain
The Memory Artists

(London, UK)

Book of the Week
The Memory Artists - Jeffrey Moore

Monday 22 November 2004

Jeffrey Moore is one of those writers whose anarchic imagination and deeply irreverent take on life give him a unique facility to entertain. Which is exactly what he does, stupendously, in The Memory Artists.

Noel Burun is a synaesthete hypermnesiac; his relentlessly exact memory doesn't allow him to forget anything and when people speak he sees their words as violent explosions of colour. His mother, Stella, apparently has Alzheimer's. They live together in a sort of weird, chaotic harmony, out of sync with the world beyond their rambling old home. Through Emile Vorta, his mentor, counsellor and employer, Noel establishes a clique of friends who move into the house, ostensibly to help Noel find a cure for Stella's Alzheimer's.

Norval and Noel look startlingly alike but Norval's exquisite beauty is diluted in Noel and there the similarity ends. Norval is a sociopath at the very least, a relentless cynic, an extreme hedonist on a pleasure quest who doesn't count the cost. He is a man besieged and tainted by his past and the memories of a tragically doomed love story. JJ is a manic optimist who is trapped by nostalgia for his childhood. He is a latter-day alchemist experimenting with a kaleidoscopic range of herbal and chemical compounds in his eagerness to help Stella. Samirah, who is a little in love with both Noel and JJ but desperately smitten by Norval's ruthless magnetism, is trying to escape a former identity.

Moore punctuates the story with ”clarifying” notes by Emile Vorta and with Stella's journal which is a painful record of her gradual mental disintegration. Sadly compelling indeed, but the author isn't afraid to inject high humour, low wit and slapstick comedy into his descriptions of the bizarre tricks Alzheimer's can play. Stella is the epicentre around whom the story develops in a dizzying whirlwind of complex twists and turns. The chaotic actions and reactions, the disturbing and endearing cast draw one into an alternative reality. It's like being spiked with acid. A cerebral assault course.

Comparison, as they say, is odious, but within Moore's unique characters I saw reflections of Dorian Gray and Des Esseintes as well as a sort of montage of John Irving's people. But this is only an observation. The comparison doesn't dilute the impact the book had on me. The Memory Artists is extraordinarily erudite and written with consummate elegance. It is hilarious, filled with pathos and irony, twisted, satirical, tragicomic and extremely challenging. It is a delight... beautiful... inspired, what more can I say? Read it.

© 2004 Chatshow Network