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Book Review on Claire Fuller's The Memory of Animals

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Book Club Questions on Claire Fuller's The Memory of Animals

The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller is an unusual book set in what appears to be roughly contemporary times. The story unfolds through a series of letters from the narrator, Neffy, to ‘H’, who we later learn is an octopus that Neffy freed from an aquarium where she’d previously worked.

 

The primary narrative follows Neffy, a 27-year-old marine biologist who volunteers in a programme developing a vaccine for a devastating pandemic, eerily reminiscent of our current global situation. The virus, named ‘Dropsy’, causes memory loss, bulging eyes, skin abnormalities, and ultimately, death.

 

As the pandemic accelerates, Neffy becomes the only successful trial participant, acquiring immunity to Dropsy. Following her severe illness, she finds herself amongst other young adults who were meant to trial the vaccine but, for various reasons, hadn’t. The narrative traces the dynamics of this group as they navigate their isolated existence, grappling with scarce resources, constant danger, and a need to survive. In that respect only, it’s a little bit like “Lord of the Flies.”

 

A twist in the tale emerges when a character named Yahiko possesses a device that allows some individuals to ‘Revisit’ their pasts and experience old memories, somewhat like using Dumbledore’s Pensieve, but more technologically advanced. This device reveals glimpses of Neffy’s childhood, her relationships with her divorced parents, and the genesis of her fascination, perhaps obsession, with sea creatures, particularly octopuses.

 

I think it’s fair to say that The Memory of Animals is a unique and most definitely peculiar blend of themes and genres. Partly a love story with octopuses as well as people, it’s also a reflection on human resilience amidst grave crises, a dystopian-apocalyptic sci-fi story, and an exploration of dysfunctionality. These themes are all explored within a narrative laced with a potent mix of metaphors and symbolism, the depth of which I’m not entirely sure I’ve yet comprehended.

 

While this blend of content may seem absurd at first glance, upon closer reflection it clearly isn’t. The book adeptly demonstrates the intricate interplay of life, science, and emotion, reinforcing that these aspects of existence are intricately intertwined.

 

If not for my book club, I might never have discovered The Memory of Animals. Although I can’t reveal much, I didn’t anticipate the ending. Despite its unusual twists, I found myself thoroughly engrossed and captivated by it. The narrative is both unsettling and incredibly authentic. It sparks an intriguing thought: how would we assess the impact of this book on ourselves, its readers, in the next two or three decades? Perhaps one day I’ll be able to use a tool akin to Yahiko’s ‘Revisit’ apparatus to find out.

  1. Guilt and grief are dominant themes in The Memory of Animals. Can you find examples within the text that highlight these themes and discuss how they enhance your understanding of the book?
  2. As a part of your book club discussion, reflect on your feelings after finishing The Memory of Animals. What do you think Claire Fuller is conveying about human nature?
  3. Out of all the characters in The Memory of Animals, which one do you sympathize with the most and why?
  4. Discuss Neffy’s connection to octopuses in The Memory of Animals. Why do you think the narrator intersperses the main story with her letters to ‘H’?
  5. In the context of The Memory of Animals, do you think the characters were justified in how they treated Orla and Stephan? What do you think you would have done under the same circumstances?
  6. What are your thoughts on Nina’s life in The Memory of Animals? Discuss what you think happened after the book ended.
  7. At one point in The Memory of Animals, the group parties and simulates getting drunk with water (pretending it to be gin). What does this episode in the book suggest about people?
  8. In The Memory of Animals, Rachel frequently takes photos for what she imagines will be a future version of Instagram or other social media platforms. What does this suggest about her belief in the future? To what extent do you think she is misguided?
  9. In The Memory of Animals, Neffy was out getting supplies when the group killed, skinned, and ate a rabbit. They did this while she wasn’t in, as she was a vegetarian. Discuss how this part of the story is explored and whether you think its brevity is effective.
  10. In The Memory of Animals, Neffy agrees to donate a kidney to Babas and later risks her own health by growing new kidney cells. Babas’ wife Margot asked her to do this, but Neffy’s mother felt it was wrong for a daughter to risk sacrificing her health for her father. Discuss what you would have done in Neffy’s situation.

Book Club Questions on The Memory of Animals (for if you haven't read the book)

  1.  If you found yourself in a post-apocalyptic situation, like the one in The Memory of Animals, do you believe you’d have the practical survival skills required? Do you think humans have the innate ability to adapt to almost anything?
  2. Despite the advanced technological state of society in The Memory of Animals, a ‘turkey baster’ is employed for the successful process of artificial insemination. If the continuation of the species depended on you having a baby, would you be prepared to do so? Would you opt for the turkey baster method or a more natural approach?!
  3. In The Memory of Animals, groups of men together became something to be feared. Do you think people are inherently ‘good’, or are we only good to coexist in a somewhat harmonious society?
  4. In The Memory of Animals, Neffy likes to revisit memories of her time with her boyfriend or positive moments in her relationship with her mother and father. If you had the chance, do you have a favourite memory you’d like to revisit?
  5. Neffy gets fired twice in The Memory of Animals for displaying more compassion towards octopuses than her role permitted her. Have you ever risked a job for a cause you strongly believe in?
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