Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Wildfire | 2017 (10 August) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

Yesterday by Felicia YapImagine an alternative present, in which nobody over the age of 18 can remember what happened more than one or two days ago. The fortunate ones are Duos – those who can remember the events of the day before yesterday. The Monos, on the other hand, can remember only yesterday. As a result, Monos are victimised and judged as inferior, backward and of little use to society. They must even register at the Department of Monos. They have little chance of advancing in their careers. Duos, on the other hand, are regarded as the thinkers, inventors, artists and doers of society. They are the high achievers. But, in order to manage, everyone must record their everyday lives onto their iDiaries and each day they must study it to remember the ‘Facts’ of their lives.

How easy it must be, then, to hide a murder, to forget it even happened. But why would anyone choose to murder at all? It’s difficult to hate somebody when you can choose to forget that they even exist. These are the issues facing DCI Hans Richardson when the body of a woman is pulled from the river Cam in Cambridge. The obvious suspect is the man with whom she was having an affair, novelist Mark Evans, a Duo who is close to achieving his goal of being elected an MP. He is also married to a Mono who everyday must learn to re-love a man she knows she can’t trust. But how can Hans tell what really happened when the clock is ticking towards yet another day of forgotten memories? The answer he feels may be found in the iDiary secrets of the murdered woman, Sophia.

Yesterday is an excellent psychological thriller with an intriguing and original premise. It’s set in a world (and England) that we can recognise but everything is altered due to the way that people and society cope without the luxury of memory. This is done brilliantly. We’re given extracts from scientific and social studies, from personal diaries and from literature (including snippets from Mark Evans’s own novels) which illustrate what this means for culture and society. In a way it’s almost a Utopia – there’s little crime, war or unhappiness – but then we’re reminded of what the reality is actually like for Monos. There’s a reason why there’s no misogyny, religious hatred and racism in this alternate world – all that prejudice is reserved for the Monos. It’s fascinating stuff. It also allows for some humorous touches, such as Steve Jobs’ runaway success in developing the iDiary (with lots of software updates, obviously).

Much of the narrative is told by each of the main characters (Mark, his wife Claire, Sophia and Hans) in turn, moving backwards and forwards between them, and also moving into the past, especially in the sections told by the victim. But each is the very epitome of the unreliable narrator – how could they be otherwise? Each of these people is either desperate to remember or to forget. It also throws light on the relationship between Duos and Monos by focusing on how Mark and Claire relate to each other. Claire is a wonderful character, my favourite in the novel, and her story is incredible and very moving at times. My feelings towards Sophia were much more complicated – what a creation she is. Hans has his own problems, a world away from those facing detectives in crime fiction set in our time and place. Hans has only a day to solve the crime and this adds a different twist to the police procedural element of the novel.

I did have one minor issue with the novel. I didn’t understand how people could make themselves remember Facts from their iDiaries. This gets over the obvious problem of characters not being able to remember anything or anyone at all but I didn’t understand how it worked.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Yesterday comes together into what is a very clever and original debut novel from Felicia Yap. It races along and maintains the tension throughout. I’m very intrigued to see where the author will head next. I think it’s going to be very interesting indeed.

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8 thoughts on “Yesterday by Felicia Yap

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      It’s well worth reading as such an intriguing idea. I love it when social commentators in the novel reflect on what the world would be like if people could remember. An interesting interpretation of utopias/dystopias. There are holes but definitely worth a look. Loved your review of Tomorrow’s Kin!

      Reply
  1. Lauren Busser

    I had the same issue with this novel! I really liked the concept but I found myself questioning how things worked when I put it down. It’s an enjoyable read, but when I think about it later, some things just don’t add up.

    Reply
    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      It doesn’t add up in some ways – how is a Fact different from a memory? But it is such an intriguing premise and a pleasure to read. Best not to over think it I suppose but it’s difficult not to because this is a book I really thought about as I read it.

      Reply
      1. Lauren Busser

        It really is! I ended up giving it a three because while I devoured it and ate up the plot, I was really disappointed in how some of the final chapters were framed. I really wanted more interaction between the characters instead of “This is what she said…” because do you really expect them not to react to this whole silloquey of shocking “facts?”

      2. Lauren Busser

        I liked how some things were resolved and I feel like emotional connectivity to these “facts” basically comes from what people put into their iDairy’s…but at the same time…it feels like if they lose their memories at 18 or 24 they have some emotional intelligence. So hearing something that should SHOCK you…should carry a “What? How could I do that?” type feeling.

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