Thursday, October 18, 2012


Paperback, 432 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Ballantine Books
Genre: contemporary novel, women's fiction, romance, paranormal (ghost)
Rating: 5 stars

I loved the idea and the execution of this stunning and original debut novel authored by talented new-comer Emily Colin. It's been also difficult to wrap a definition around it: not completely women's fiction despite the intricate plot, the deeper characterization, the introspective tone and the bittersweet 'happy ending'; not entirely romance novel despite the tight focus on the romantic aspect and a good dose of sensuality; not exactly paranormal despite the 'supernatural' element. But for the effective blend of romantic literature and a sort of magic realism, its appeal was even wider and the author's choice of a somewhat tragic storyline and the bittersweet ending resonated with great emotional depth.

When Maddie Kimble fell in love with Aidan James, cocky and bold mountain climber, she knew from the start that she would loose him sooner or later. A six year marriage and a son later, Aidan is still selfishly pursuing his career as a professional climber, and despite Maddie's ominous premonitions he's off to a new expedition on Mt. McKinley, Alaska. He dismisses his wife's pleas and he promises that nothing in the entire world would hold him from coming back to her and to their beloved son Gabe. The expedition proves to be a fateful one for the fearless mountaineer. He is killed by an avalanche, his climbing partners (among which his best friend J.C.) the only survivors. As the terrible news reach her, an heartbroken and lonelier than ever Maddie is left to cope not only with the tragic loss and the heartwrenching pain of seeing her son growing without his father; she also has to deal with an emotional dilemma involving her new widow status and her feelings for Aidan's best friend and partner J.C., a man who has always been in love with her. As the honorable man that he is, J.C. has been loyal to Aidan and is now ready to fulfill his promise to take care of his childhood friend's family.
Aidan's body will remain buried under the avalanche, but for some bizzarre cosmic conjunction, his soul travels  into Nicholas' body, a social studies teacher from North Carolina, who was simultaneously involved in a motorcycle accident miles and miles away from the avalanche. When Nicholas wakes up in a hospital, his memory is wiped clean, except for vivid glimpses and haunting dreams of a mountain, an avalanche, and the two unknown but strangely familiar faces of a beautiful young woman and a little boy. Nicholas is tormented by his memory loss and by a profound sense of dislocation. He doesn't recognize himself in his old environment: he is, in fact, being used by the deceased alpinist as a conveyor to deliver a last desperate message to Maddie and Gabe. Haunted and urged by Aidan's compelling memories, and in an attempt to restore balance in his own life, Nicholas decides to get to the bottom of his grotesque situation and contact the climber's family. The most striking aspect of his surreal experience is that what feels like an unexplicable obsession and a cause of great turmoil, turns out to be a blessing: it will open Nicholas' eyes on his real purpose in life. The soul of the Universe has a way to restore the cosmic order: a precious life is lost to an imposing and unforgiving mountain, but a new love will stem from this loss, and another life will be steered on a new and more meaningful course.
Love that defies death and time is definitely one of my favorite tropes. The storyline unfolds at a pleasantly easy pace, narrated by three different 1st person POVs: Aidan's, Maddie's, and Nichola's.  I found Ms. Colin's writing style to be refreshing and capable of conveying great suspense thanks to her skillful switching between timelines and perspectives. The dynamics that tie in our characters and their stories move along simmetric and specular lines: Aidan is a ghost, he lost his corporeal quality on that mountain, but his stubborn streak and the intensity of his love for Maddie and Gabe trascend his physical death. Nicholas, on the other hand, survives a mortal accident, but comes out of it like a ghost, devoided of his soul, deprived of those memories his spiritual essence is made of. Aidan's death gives strength to the connection (dismissed but undeniable) between Maddie and J.C., and it also helps Nicholas understand where his relationship with fiancee Grace is really heading to. I wasn't initially comfortable with Maddie's swaying between the memory of her just-deceased husband and her physical attraction for her husband's best friend. It feels to me like her feelings for J.C. went deeper than friendship even before Aidan's death. I ultimately resolved  not to judge Maddie for falling in another man's arms when her husband was not cold in his grave yet. I tried to identify with her in order to be able to fathom how heart-piercing her grief is, how tormenting her sense of emptiness and loneliness after her beloved husband's death. I can catch glimpses of her sorrow in her words, when she dreams about Aidan trapped in the snow:

"On those nights, I wake up panicked and afraid. Then I look over to the other side of the bed, where he should be. Of course it's empty, the pillow plumped, the sheets pulled tight, which makes me feel lonelier than ever (...) his absence hits me harder than ever."

Emily Colin builds her characters and explores their emotional world with a mix of stream of consciousness, vivid dreams, and a bittersweet trip down memory lane. Her masterful use of multiple POVs helps bridge the distance between readers and characters, disclosing their thoughts, exposing their hearts, gradually unveiling their personal stories and the intensity of their feelings. Her prose has a pleasant conversational feel, never labored and rather authentic despite the complex texture of her narration, her voice harmonious and eloquent throughout the entire novel. The love scenes are explicit and well written, perfectly embedded in the emotional flow of the events and pivotal in the advancement of the plot: the intensity of the love-making trascends the "survivor lust" and has its roots in long-denied mutual feelings. Now, explicit sensuality is not common in women's fiction, but in this as in other aspects Colin's debut novel defies any formulaic definition.
The Memory Thief is a very original debut, engaging and emotional. I look forward to Colin's next novel with great anticipation. 


  1. Mina, thank you for the fantastic review! So glad you enjoyed the book.

  2. You are most welcome, Emily. Your debut novel is such a gem!