"The Everliving Memory of John Valentine" by Ross Sayers is a remarkable book that I really cannot recommend highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking, fast-paced, witty and exciting tale and I suspect that just about everyone else will enjoy it too.
I read a lot of books. It rather goes with the territory of being a book reviewer. Some I enjoy a lot, some less so. But for the most part, whether or not I've enjoyed a book, I know that when I've read the final page and put it away on a shelf, there's a fair chance of it blending in my memory with other books that I've read at one time or another. Not many books are so unusual, so distinct, that I know I'll have no problem clearly remembering them this time next year, or the one after that. This is definitely one of those books. I'm not sure whether it's fitting or ironic that a book that has at its core the idea of memory should itself be so memorable, but it certainly gives a sense of circularity.
So, where to begin? The book is set out in short paragraphs, each of which is told from the perspective of one of the protagonists. Mostly, but not entirely, this means we alternate between Hannah, in Edinburgh in 2019, and John in the apparently fictional Stonecranning in 1975. Only, he isn't really either in Stonecranning or in 1975.
Hannah Greenshields is a young single mother embarking on her first day in her first real job since leaving university. She's not sure why, but she's been accepted by Memory Lane, a memory clinic in the centre of Edinburgh. She's not really sure what the job entails, and neither are two other new recruits who start at the same time. They soon find out that Memory Lane is a highly secretive company that possesses unique technology that allows clients to re-experience 12-hour blocks of their favourite memories for a substantial - a really substantial - fee.
John Valentine is, in effect, living within the system. As the man who perfected the technology and the founder of the company, the normal rules don't apply to him and he has spent the last significant period reliving the 12 hours from noon to midnight of his 1975 wedding day over and over and over and over again, hoping to be able to change just one key event. But then things start to go awry, to diverge from his actual memories, in small ways and then in larger ones. Is the system learning what it means to be bored by simple repetition? Hannah's path and John's should never cross, but as things spiral out of control and the book builds towards its nicely measured conclusion they do, with entertaining results.
It's always tempting when encountering something new to try to relate it to something less so. We'd suggest that "The Everliving Memory of John Valentine" has strong (and acknowledged) echoes of "Groundhog Day"; but elements of it also reminded me a little of "Westworld" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". Having said that, this is a book that stands on its own merits and one that really deserves to be widely read.