Thursday, 1 April 2010

Just Finished: The Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore

Set in Ecuador in the 1990s, The Amnesia Clinic follows two fifteen year old boys who couldn't be more different. Anti, the narrator, is a British expat - pale, unattractive and prone to asthma attacks. Fabian is the good-looking, athletic and popular Ecuadorian who takes Anti under his wing. One thing they do share, and what forms the basis of their friendship, is a talent for storytelling; both the boys, Fabian's uncle and a host of other characters are seen using imagination to embellish the reality of what's happened to them. In Fabian's case, it's the death of his mother and father. As his mother's body was never found, Fabian concocts a series of barely plausible possibilities explaining how she survived and where she is now - something that Anti later encourages by suggesting she's a patient in an invented Amnesia Clinic on the coast. This leads to a trip across Ecuador to a fishing village that's not on the map; a trip that ends with a bang.

The storytelling theme is recurrent throughout; many characters have opportunities to go off on their own tangent and it's largely up to you decide whether the narrator is reliable, or whether it's complete bollocks. I think everyone's felt, at one point or another, disappointed with the reality in which they find themselves, and longed for something more interesting to be injected into their daily lives. The Amnesia Clinic follows Anti and Fabian at a time in life when the imagination begins to fail - when what is becomes more important than what could be. It's a coming of age story about leaving childhod fancies behind, and learning to accept life how it is - no matter how grim it seems.

The final twist is the icing on the cake - I wish I could go into it more but I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Suffice it to say that it realigns your perspective on the events and characters you've been reading about, just when you think you know what happened.

I've never been to Ecuador, nor South America for that matter, so I'm not sure how good Scudamore's descriptions are - but in my mind it certainly evoked the colour, passion and confusion that I imagine to exist there. This is a good read - it took a while to get into, and I wasn't always sure what to believe but I think it's very cleverly written. Scudamore's characters manipulate your opinion of them with their stories and keep you guessing until the end. This means you can't really trust any of them, and instead wonder what the reality is, beneath the stories and lies.

Next up: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

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