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Tell Me an Ending

Review

Tell Me an Ending

“A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through these stories; and he tries to live his life as if he were recounting it.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, NAUSEA

The above quote opens Jo Harkin’s debut novel, TELL ME AN ENDING, the premise of which immediately intrigued me. The idea of memory erasure made me think of one of my all-time favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I was amused to find Harkin referencing the movie in her book.

TELL ME AN ENDING is told through the individual stories of a handful of different characters who are all somehow connected to the company Nepenthe. Many people mistake the origin of the name as coming from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” but it was actually adapted from Homer’s “The Odyssey” after the magical potion Nepenthes pharmakon, a drug that Helen of Troy got a hold of to make the soldiers forget the Trojan War.

"TELL ME AN ENDING is an important novel because the memory is so fragile, delicate and easily manipulated. Jo Harkin does a masterful job of jumping from character to character in each section of the book to allow us to live out what they are experiencing."

Nepenthe has two types of clients: self-informed and self-confidential. The former know they had a memory removed; the latter do not. The primary story we follow is that of Noor, a doctor at Nepenthe who is currently facing the fallout from the abundance of former clients who are starting to relive pieces of erased memories like waking nightmares or bad dreams. These incidents are being called traces, and a mass lawsuit was filed and won against Nepenthe, who are now picking up the pieces. Noor is beginning to get increasingly suspicious of the place and her boss, Louise, who she believes might be holding some deadly secret from her.

Sixteen-year-old Mei is experiencing some bad traces and is trying to make sense of them. She feels things on the edge of her memory and sometimes swears she sees people she believes she should know. Mei knows she is not going mad and is leaving her parents completely out of her personal ordeal. She was driven to visit Kuala Lumpur in the hopes that she would find answers there.

Finn is married to Mirande, and their union feels good to him. Every once in a while, he gets the feeling that he has a daughter, Ri, but cannot be totally sure. He also has flashes of memories about his wife and a friend/lover named David. When David shows up at their home, Mirande reminds Finn that he is their longtime friend who recently divorced. Finn does not feel right about the whole relationship and swears that David is constantly looking at him in the way one might stare at a strange bird.

Oscar is a handsome young man who cannot seem to remember anything and has no memory of himself prior to his 16th birthday. He wanders around not only London but also the world looking to find answers. He also keeps seeing images of himself and a gun in a storyline that does not end well.

Lastly, we have William, who is considering going to Nepenthe and has been seeing his GP with many questions about his mental and physical health to make sure he is fit to do so. He is a police officer and cannot afford to have any of his case work from the job erased, so he is a bit hesitant. The question is: Has William already been erased, and is this version of himself just a byproduct of that?

TELL ME AN ENDING is an important novel because the memory is so fragile, delicate and easily manipulated. Jo Harkin does a masterful job of jumping from character to character in each section of the book to allow us to live out what they are experiencing. Sometimes it is straightforward, while at other times it reads like stream-of-consciousness literature that harks back to the work of William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. This mind-bending debut will certainly make you think.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 4, 2022

Tell Me an Ending
by Jo Harkin

  • Publication Date: January 24, 2023
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1982164328
  • ISBN-13: 9781982164324