cover image The Memory of Animals

The Memory of Animals

Claire Fuller. Tin House, $27.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-953534-87-3

Fuller (Unsettled Ground) crafts a haunting novel of second chances set in a near-future pandemic. Twenty-something Neffy, still grieving the loss of her father and embarrassed by the crumbling of her marine biology career after a professional misstep, signs up as a vaccine test subject during the early days of the pandemic. While Neffy and her fellow volunteers are isolated in a London hospital as they undergo treatment, the virus, nicknamed “Dropsy,” develops a new and deadly variant, which causes sudden memory loss before certain death. Neffy, who may have developed immunity, is identified as the group’s best hope for the future, but after fellow test subject Leon introduces her to a new technology called Revisiting, which allows her to relive moments from her past, she becomes increasingly drawn to the treatment. Fuller’s intricately structured narrative makes great use of the Revisiting conceit, allowing Neffy’s history—including her love for an octopus she once cared for at an aquarium—to wrap itself around an increasingly nightmarish present, as Neffy uncovers secrets about the virus’s progression that other volunteers have been keeping from her. The entwined pain and pleasure of memory is at the heart of Neffy’s story, as is the hard work of establishing trust and finding forgiveness, particularly for oneself. This is a pandemic novel, yes, but one that radically transcends the label. (June)