For the Back of Your Mind

Book Review of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Kim Edwards.

1f3f9-memory_keepers_daughter1How can we know if we’re making the right the decisions? More importantly, is there any way we can know in how these decisions will affect our lives and the lives of others. This is the basic theme of this novel which begins in 1964 when Dr. David Henry’s wife Nora is about to give birth to twins in the middle of a blizzard. When they can’t get to the hospital, he stops at his clinic and calls in his nurse to assist him. The first child is a boy they call Paul, and he’s perfect. The second child is a girl named Phoebe, but she has Down syndrome. When Dr. Henry sees this, he makes one of those life-altering decisions. Instead of telling his wife about Phoebe, he gives the child to his nurse Caroline, and tells to take the child to an institution. He then tells his wife that Phoebe died. However, after seeing the horrible place David sends her, Caroline immediately decides to leave town and raise Phoebe as her own. The rest of the novel follows these two separate stories.

The concept of this novel is very interesting. We watch the affects of these two decisions, as the years go by. On the one hand, there’s David’s lie to his wife. He’s also terrified that if another pregnancy might result in their having another retarded child, and so he pulls away from her. This also means that David never addresses Nora’s devastation at the loss of her daughter, making her feel abandoned. On the other hand, Caroline not only has to deal with raising a child on her own in the 1960s, but one with very special needs, which is doubly difficult. Furthermore, we soon understand that Caroline was secretly in love with Dr. Henry. By taking Phoebe, she substituted the love she hoped to get from him with the child she essentially stole.

Edwards pulls off this excellent basis for multiple character studies with aplomb. We watch David become increasingly introverted, turning to photography in an attempt to express his emotions. As his aptitude with the camera increases, his pictures gradually take on the theme of “things aren’t as they initially appear.” Of course, the lack of attention from David causes Nora to look for it elsewhere – in the arms of other men. As for Caroline, she goes from being weak, lovelorn and sidelined to a champion of mainstreaming Down syndrome children.

There’s also an interesting parallel/counterpoint going on with the twins, Paul and Phoebe. Paul rebels against the easy path of following in his father’s footsteps by wanting a career in music. Phoebe fights her disabilities by attempting to make her life as conventional as possible. Edwards pulls us in and makes us believe in all these people with both raw and real emotions in a simple prose style that that belies the complexities of their situations.

On this level, this book is a true success. However, Edwards waxes over some anomalies that made me ultimately wary of this book. For instance, how can you have a funeral for a child if there’s no body and what about birth and death certificates? How is it possible that no one was suspicious of a woman carrying newborn that obviously had never been pregnant? Caroline, despite her good intentions, committed the heinous crime of kidnapping, yet there are no ramifications or penalties. Let’s not even discuss an even more logistical, if not legal question that comes up later in the book when we find out a secret from David Henry’s past.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that Edwards decided the details of overcoming these problems weren’t worth inclusion in this story. Even so, I still other problems with this book. Firstly, Nora seems to accept everything with only simple surprise, some (seemingly misplaced) regret, and only a slight bit of anger. That just doesn’t fit, and broke Nora’s believability for me. Later in the book, Edwards adds an extra sub-plot and new character, which felt arbitrary and unnecessary. This made the story-line from about the last third of this novel increasingly implausible and the characters less convincing.

Obviously, I can only give three stars to this book, even though it is lovely to read, with a sophisticated, yet simply written narrative, with mostly believable characters. The story has some fascinating aspects to it, even if Edwards didn’t make everything technically authentic. In addition, the main theme of how one decision can affect one’s whole life came through loud and clear. This, along with the literary quality of the writing, is probably why the book has received such acclaim. However, for me this book was just a bit too flawed for my taste, but for those willing to ignore what I could not, I can still recommend it.


“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Kim Edwards published by Viking Press in June 2005 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, WHSmith, Waterstones, Kobo, as an iBook or audiobook from iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), or from, UK.Bookshop, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. (This is a vastly revised version of my review that appeared under my user name TheChocolateLady on {the now defunct} Dooyoo and Yahoo! Contributor Network – aka Associated Content.)

7 thoughts on “For the Back of Your Mind

  1. When there are holes in the plot and plausibility of a book it can really bother me, no matter how well-written and insightful it is. This one sounds like it could have been truly great with a bit more attention to detail. The premise is intriguing for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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