The best books about memory and forgetting

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of memory. What sticks in your mind, what is lost, what can be manipulated, how you see things in different ways to others, and how sometimes you can’t trust even your own memories. I studied psychology at A-level and that sparked an interest in me, especially in terms of repression and learned behaviours. I studied creative writing to MA level at university, where I wrote my first thriller, which also focuses on memory. I’m always searching for reads that make me look at human nature differently, or break me out of routine and can offer a surprise. Surprises keep things interesting! 

I wrote...


By Nikki Dudley,

Book cover of VOLTA

What is my book about?

When Briony Campbell confesses to killing her boyfriend, a straightforward crime soon turns into a baffling mystery. Haunted by demons from his past, lawyer SJ Robin is assigned to the case. But as confusion - and the body count - rises, he's forced to question who is guilty and who is innocent. Can he see justice served and hold on to the woman he loves?

A psychological thriller where no one is what they seem.

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The books I picked & why

Before I Go to Sleep

By S.J. Watson,

Book cover of Before I Go to Sleep

Why did I love this book?

This book is now a film, but the book is much better! Imagine waking up every day without any memories. Imagine not knowing who your husband is. Imagine your husband having to explain you had an accident two decades earlier and you can’t form new memories. Well, this is that book… The problems start when the narrator begins to reconstruct her past bit by bit, though she keeps getting curtailed by her memory loss, which is both riveting and frustrating for the reader! As she gets closer to the truth, she realises her memories might not be the only things she can’t trust. It’s such a thrilling read and hard not to speed read this in one go!

By S.J. Watson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Before I Go to Sleep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Mesmerising and unsettling . . . The best debut thriller for years' Sunday Times

Now a major film starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong

Over 7 million copies sold worldwide

Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine's life.


Readers are obsessed with Before I Go To Sleep:

***** 'A genius plot with an incredible twist. Before…

Book cover of The Housekeeper and the Professor

Why did I love this book?

This is the tender and intriguing story of a brilliant math professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. The other main character is a young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him. Each day, the characters are reintroduced to one another, while the Professor’s long-term memories open up new directions for them all, creating close bonds and a strange familiar unit. It’s a simple story but it has remained with me for some reason – perhaps because memory is so key to who we are but somehow, in this book, the characters are drawn together and create something despite that. I also loved the inter-generational friendships. 

By Yoko Ogawa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Housekeeper and the Professor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is one of those books written in such lucid, unpretentious language that reading it is like looking into a deep pool of clear water...Dive into Yoko Ogawa's world and you find yourself tugged by forces more felt than seen' New York Times

Each morning, the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to one another. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant mathematical equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles - based on her shoe size or her birthday - and the numbers reveal a sheltering and…

The Woman Before Me

By Ruth Dugdall,

Book cover of The Woman Before Me

Why did I love this book?

This one is a bit of a cheat as It doesn’t fall into the category of memory and forgetting as easily but I think it is definitely about past trauma, trying to reinvent yourself, ignoring parts of your true nature, which for me, is a form of forgetting. In this tense novel, three women must uncover the truth about a tragic incident, one of whom is a probation officer trying to decide if a prisoner should be released on parole. It’s told from dual perspectives and it keeps twisting throughout. The last twist really threw me and I wanted to go back and read it again.

By Ruth Dugdall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Woman Before Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emma has everything Rose lacks: a faithful husband, beauty, and a healthy baby boy. Rose meets her in the hospital after her own baby dies from premature birth, and when Emma’s child dies in a suspicious house fire shortly after, the obsessive and unstable Rose is the primary suspect.

Now, after almost five years in prison, Rose is up for parole, but probation officer Cate Austin must first decide whether this accused murderer can be released or if she really is a threat to society. The answer seems obvious at first, but as Cate delves deeper into Rose’s disturbing past—a…

One of Us

By Michael Marshall Smith,

Book cover of One of Us

Why did I love this book?

This is a sci-fi thriller with amazing concepts and a page-turning story! Meet Hap Thompson – his job is to take on other people’s memories. He carries bad memories for a few hours and gets paid for the privilege. When he gets landed with a bad memory by someone who won’t take it back, he finds himself on the run. Then, people start disappearing… This is a fab read – refreshing different with some sci-fi elements, but still a thriller by nature. Michael Marshall Smith’s writing is both dark, humorous, and inventive. I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect novel but for the ideas about memory and forgetting, it delivers a lot.

By Michael Marshall Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One of Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A mesmerising SF thriller from a master of the genre. Hap Thompson is a REMtemp, working the night hours, having people's anxiety dreams for them. For the first time in his life, Hap's making big money - and that should have been enough...

Hap Thompson has finally found something he can do better than anyone else. And it's legal. Almost. Hap's a REMtemp, working the night hours, having people's anxiety dreams for them. For the first time in his life, Hap's making big money - and that should have been enough.

But then Hap is made an offer he just…

Book cover of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Why did I love this book?

I am not actually a huge sci-fi fan overall. I actually just love books about memory, identity, and facing up to your true self. This one is a perfect fit for this. It’s about a character called Charles Yu (yes, the same as the author!) who travels through time to find his father, the inventor of time travel no less. His job is to stop people trying to change the past, which never ends well. His own mother is stuck in a self-imposed time loop and he is in love with an operating system. In this bizarre and often humorous tale, Yu forces us to question our own fragilities and coping mechanisms. Despite its sci-fi leanings and the oddities, it is a story of family, love, and what it means to be human – and ultimately, memory and the ways it can damage or heal a person. 

By Charles Yu,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brimming with alternative universes, futuristic landscapes and gleeful metaphysics... Yu's spirit of invention is infectious. - Sunday Times

Highly inventive and hilarious - The Times


With only TAMMY - a slightly tearful computer with self-esteem issues - a software boss called Phil - Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0 - and an imaginary dog called Ed for company, fixing time machines is a lonely business and Charles Yu is stuck in a rut.

He's spent the better part of a decade navel-gazing, spying on 39 different versions of himself in alternate universes (and discovered that 35 of them are total jerks).…

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