Robyn Reviews: Memory of Water

‘Memory of Water’ is a gorgeously atmospheric dystopian novel. The language is beautiful, with a kind of cyclical repetitiveness reminiscent of poetry. Right from the start there’s an air of foreboding, and it’s always clear how things will end – but the journey there is all the more engrossing for it, and the climax still packs an emotional punch. For those who enjoy speculative fiction, this is a recommended read.

Sometime in the future, climate change has transformed the Earth. The ice at the poles has melted, and the sea level rise has drastically transformed the landscape. However, in this world, access to fresh water is highly limited, and water has thus become the most valuable commodity. In what was once Finland, Noria Katio is preparing to follow her father and become a tea master. However, her father has been keeping secrets – a hidden water source outside the strict government controls, used only for the benefit of their family. As Noria grapples with her impending adulthood and this new knowledge, the secret becomes a small stone that sends ripples through a cold pool, building in momentum until the consequences are far beyond anyone’s control.

The story ebbs and flows like the tide. It breaks all the rules of storytelling, regularly circling back to old points and making no attempt to hide the inevitable ending. There are constant references to water, with metaphors for life that sound almost biblical. At first, this can seem strange – but it creates an exceptional atmosphere, one that builds and builds until the tension is almost unbearable. The climax, when it comes, is a relief – but even then, the tension doesn’t fully abate, with a sense that the cycle will only begin again. This is a novel about water with all the gravity and energy of the ocean. Its an exceptional linguistic feat.

Noria is a quiet yet compelling protagonist. As the child of a tea master intended to become one herself, her life has always been shrouded in privilege. The tea master will always have enough water – she’s never known the poverty that’s shaped the life of her friends. Noria is also fascinated by history. She snatches at every reference she can find to how life was before climate disaster reshaped the planet – knowledge lost to the march of time, or perhaps something more sinister. Noria is polite and inquisitive, but also somewhat sheltered and naive. She’s easy to like, but her interactions with others – particularly her closest friend, Sanja – have a disconcerting element of cultural divide. Noria is free to indulge her passion, free to dream of a better future – others don’t have that luxury.

Noria’s relationship with Sanja is an intriguing element. The two are close friends – but while Sanja is everything to Noria, it’s never entirely clear what Noria is to Sanja. Unlike Noria, Sanja’s family live in poverty. Sanja is loathe to accept the help Noria tries to impart, seeing it as charity, and Noria doesn’t understand why Sanja resorts to desperate measures when Noria is willing to help. Their relationship is kept strictly platonic, but there are parts towards the end where it could almost be read as sapphic. The two books are very different, but the dynamics remind me of Luca and Touraine in The Unbroken – two diametrically opposite people who enjoy each others company but who can never fully understand the other’s mind.

Overall, ‘Memory of Water’ is a quiet, atmospheric novel that draws you in and packs a powerful emotional punch. It takes some time to adjust to the writing style, but the payoff is worth it. Recommended for fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, and those who appreciate linguistic ingenuity.

Published by HarperVoyager
Paperback: 24th January 2012

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