New Review: Forest of Memory (2016)

Mary Robinette Kowal


ISBN: 978-0-7653-8389-1

This is one of those books where you get to the end of the story and start grumbling that it’s not a novel. Or for that matter, a series of novels that let you have more of this character, more of this world, more of the twisty ideas threading throughout the piece which tug at ideas that are bigger than the story being told.

Our narrator (and she is literally the narrator of the story) is Katya Gould, an Authenticities dealer in a future where everyone is online and retro is big bucks. After making an acquisition, Katya is on her way home from a “shopping trip” when she stumbles across a man doing something he shouldn’t be, shooting protected deer from the forest. This is the beginning of the somewhat surreal tale Katya tells her mysterious buyer, and throws her into a situation she could never have imagined: offline, out of touch and out of reach, alone in the forest with a strange man who is tagging the deer, and uncertain of her fate.

I loved the more abstract elements of this piece the most – it seemed to me that Kowal was unpicking aspects of environmentalism in confrontation with technological reliance, and examining these in a context that was just off-kilter enough to disturb. The discussion of memory, and the way we process life through filters (some of them ours, some of them imposed) was elegant and thoughtful, and cleverly reflected through the deliberate use of typographical errors and cross-outs throughout the text (the conceit being the story is being written on the typewriter Katya acquires at the beginning of the story). Yes, reading a story with errors deliberately left in was a challenge, but the effect becomes powerful as the story unfolds.

Forest of Memory is a story that both ends exactly where it needs to but also leaves you yearning for more – it seems there is so much more of Katya’s world to explore and understand, and I would be very happy to hear Kowal intends to do just that.

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