The Memory Collectors by Kim Neville is a unique fantasy in our everyday world. Harriet and Ev can feel the feelings stuck to objects, and become The Memory Collectors.
Ev has a mysterious ability, one that she feels is more a curse than a gift. She can feel the emotions people leave behind on objects and believes that most of them need to be handled extremely carefully, and—if at all possible—destroyed. The harmless ones she sells at Vancouver’s Chinatown Night Market to scrape together a living, but even that fills her with trepidation. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Harriet hoards thousands of these treasures and is starting to make her neighbors sick as the overabundance of heightened emotions start seeping through her apartment walls.
When the two women meet, Harriet knows that Ev is the only person who can help her make something truly spectacular of her collection. A museum of memory that not only feels warm and inviting but can heal the emotional wounds many people unknowingly carry around. They only know of one other person like them, and they fear the dark effects these objects had on him. Together, they help each other to develop and control their gift, so that what happened to him never happens again. But unbeknownst to them, the same darkness is wrapping itself around another, dragging them down a path that already destroyed Ev’s family once, and threatens to annihilate what little she has left.
The Memory Collectors casts every day in a new light, speaking volumes to the hold that our past has over us—contained, at times, in seemingly innocuous objects—and uncovering a truth that both women have tried hard to bury with their pasts: not all magpies collect shiny things—sometimes they gather darkness.
“Sometimes Harriet finds treasure, and sometimes treasure finds Harriet.”
Kim Neville has created a magical concept within the world we already know and live in. This story weaves different real-life issues- anxiety, obsessiveness, and even hoarding. It addresses them within their magical context and gives life to something you didn’t know needed it. The way Ev and Harriet’s abilities work are not entirely difficult to understand. This was in part because Ev was exploring how hers has grown,. This also was because Harriet has less shame around it. I think this was a clever way to introduce a magical power. It avoids info-dumping.
“People are too complicated for Ev, always have been.”
The characters in this book are so incredibly different from one another and unique. We have Ev, who doesn’t understand people and is obsessively keeping her space clean due to trauma. Owen, who has his own secrets to keep but is inherently kind and trying to help everyone. Harriet, who wants to help Ev help her and grow while also struggling with being a hoarder. And Noemi, who is flighty at best and runs when things get scary. These individual characters were very realistic, which added to the depth of this story.
“At the same time, she feels as though she’s losing them, and as a result, she’s losing herself, coming apart, breaking open from the inside. It’s taxing work.”.
Discussing the plot without spoiling everything is tricky. There is the inherent mystery of Ev and Noemi’s parents, and what actually happened to them. This gave the book an aspect of a dark and thriller feel at times, and I think it’s what made the book so fantastic for me. As we dive into more contemporary themed plot lines, an exciting end game keeps things going. There were moments when the pacing of the plot was a little slow, but the ending truly redeemed it.
“She’d like to be a star, even if it means she’s in the process of dying, of slowly burning out. Being human isn’t much different, really. At least the stars have space to burn in peace.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.