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How We Remember Paperback – 13 Sep 2018
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"What a heartbreaker! A deeply assured, soulful and savage portrayal of family life and secrets. This book gets under your skin - and stays there' - Emma Jane Unsworth
'How We Remember drew me in with its vividly drawn characters right from the beginning. Unsettling, honest and thought-provoking' - Joanne Burn
About the Author
J.M. Monaco grew up in the northeast region of the USA where she studied English and Creative Writing at undergraduate level. She worked in a variety of areas before taking up postgraduate studies in England where she completed her PhD. She now lives in a buzzing city in the South West of England with her husband and children.
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I found the movement between the past and the present disconcerting and challenging as a reader but, when I reflected on it after finishing the book, I realised that it’s what we do on a daily basis. Our present lives are informed by the past; we think about the near and distant past albeit fleetingly throughout our lives. Jo’s life is, to some extent, the sum of her past. She can’t cast it off; it informs how she behaves and the decisions she takes and it’s no surprise that she envies people’s lives whom she perceives to be ‘normal’.
Monaco visits and examines emotions and mental health issues which are deeply troubling and, I found, totally credible. What remained with me after finishing the book was a feeling of deep sadness that Jo measured her successes against her troubled family and history. What kind of a benchmark were they? Should any of us measure our lives in that way? Monaco has raised a lot of questions in this haunting, but captivating book.
This is a well-observed and unflinching story about a woman with real intellectual drive and talent who had to cope with a dysfunctional family, economic uncertainty and early trauma. Her story touches on many of the themes obsessing us all today.
The author's clear style handles the contradictions and changes which capture real life. No binaries here. Intelligence and nuance coexist. The book contains great evocations of life in Boston and the UK in the late twentieth and early 21st centuries (like the character and the author, I am born in the USA but settled in the UK so feel well-placed to attest to this).
Monaco skilfully manages to capture the mindsets of its working and middle-class characters without seeming too effortful. I was struck by the way she documented, almost by default, the impact of alcohol and drugs on ordinary lives.
Unlike so many other portrayals of academic life in the UK, the author 'gets' class, as well as gender and her uncompromising honesty, imbues the book with an admirably authentic feel.
We get insight into the life of Jo who left the States for a new life in London however on the event of her Mother’s death she returns to the States. We go on a journey with Jo through her past and present and some shocking secrets are uncovered.
It’s not a fast paced read, it’s more a character driven novel that is a slow burner. Jo is a wonderful main character, right from the start I was drawn to her and I did gasp in horror at some of the things she has endured in her life. Family is the main topic of the book and I felt sorry for Jo as to how her brother and other family members treated her.
J.M. Monaco has a brilliant way with words, right from the start I was hooked as the secrets are unveiled. It’s raw and it’s honest, the book doesn’t shy away from difficult topics however it’s all fabulously written with great care and sympathy. The majority of the book does jump around between the two timelines however I did find it easy to follow and it wasn’t confusing.
How We Remember is a remarkable read, I finished reading it and just sat for a while just contemplating what I’d just read. It’s real life in it’s rawest forms with some shocking and at times unbelievable secrets that are unveiled. Fantastic read, I absolutely loved it.