The Memory Thief by Emily Colin (Ballantine Books, c2012) takes readers into a world where death is not the end. Suspend what you believe about the afterlife, and let Colin take you on a fantastic journey in which love continues even when the body has failed.
Aiden is deeply in love with his wife, Madeleine. He also has a strong love of mountain climbing. When he chooses to make a particularly dangerous climb, Madeleine asks him not to go. He laughs off her bad feeling with a promise that he will come back to her. A few days later, Madeleine receives a call from J.C., Aiden’s best friend and climbing buddy, confirming her worst fear- Aiden was lost in an avalanche. Aiden however, promised her he would come back, and the strength that carried him through life carries him in death to keep this promise. Through the perspectives of Aiden, Madeleine, and a man named Nicholas, a stranger with memory loss after crashing his motorcycle, readers learn about the beginning of Aiden and Madeleine’s relationship, the love J.C. harbors for Madeleine, and how Nicholas is influential to the futures of Aiden’s wife and young son.
Nicholas, suffering from amnesia, is the perfect vessel. Aiden forces his memories of Madeleine and his son into Nicholas, making him believe they are his. Nicholas remembers freezing as the snow suffocates him, feels desire for Madeleine, whom he sees only in his dreams, and love for the little boy Aiden left behind.
Nicholas is confused, though. He wakes in the hospital to find a beautiful redhead by his side who tells him she is his fiancée. As he struggles to regain the memories of his true life, Nicolas fights to understand the memories in his head that appear so much more real. Eventually, the strength of Aiden’s resolve to keep his promise wins Nicholas over, and sends him on a search to find Madeleine.
In the meantime, Aiden tries to visit Madeleine, but she resists his entreaties. Their son, however, is open to Aiden’s ghostly visits. He sees and feels Aiden, wet and snowy from the weight of the snow his body is buried under. Madeleine’s disbelief does not stop her son from insisting Aiden visits him in his room. It is not until later, when Aiden leaves both his son and Nicholas the same sign to show Madeleine, that she finally begins to understand that Aiden has been trying to reach her.
Colin’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. I found myself wishing Aiden could keep his promise to return to his family in body as well as in spirit, but that was not why he became the memory thief. He had to keep his promise to the one woman he did not run away from; the one woman he gave his heart to. Aiden loves Madeleine so dearly, that he needs to help her to move on and allow herself to love again. Nicholas unknowingly assists Aiden in his quest to give those he loved in life the gift of letting him go. At the same time, Nicholas also receives a gift. Aiden’s memories and passion help Nicholas to remember the dreams he had as a child and give him the strength to break free of the secure life he was living and search out the dreams of his past.
What do any of us really know of the afterlife? None of us can really say for sure that there is more than the life we are now living. But if any part of who we are or what we feel endures once death comes for us, why can’t it be love? This is the question Colin explores in The Memory Thief.
–contributed by staffer Heather Burns