Memory of Water. Book Review

waterMEMORY OF WATER by Emmi Itäranta
HarperVoyager, h/b, 272pp, £12.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

When Noria was about to come of age and learn her father’s trade ready to become a tea master after him, he took her to the place that does not exist. The stories say that the spring dried long ago but the stories are not always true, as Noria will come to discover. Remember that it does not exist, he told her, and made her promise that she would never forget. It was a promise that she did not yet understand.

Life is hard in the aftermath of war. Water is precious, and sacred, like the role of the tea master. There is ritual to observe, and history to preserve, but there is also the history not yet know. What is the origin of the plastic grave and what use did all of its items have in the past world? What really happened in the Twilight Century? Secrets surround Noria. Secrets she will start to uncover.

Memory of Water brings us a post-apocalyptic future where water is scarce, and committing a water crime, such as illegally obtaining water or failing to report the existence of a water source, is a serious offence. A house marked with a blue circle is a house where a water crime has been committed, and those at fault will pay the highest price for their actions.

This is a haunting tale with a sense of menace ever present and an undertone of suspense throughout. The beautiful descriptions of water lie at the heart of the story and are complemented with the tea ritual, where old techniques and tradition mesh with the modern elements of our own society in a disturbing potential future. Itäranta delivers a slow but compelling story. This is speculative fiction, not for those seeking action and thrills, but for those who enjoy the beauty of a languorous glimpse at another life.

Noria’s world and her situation are fed to the reader at a protracted rate, and with scant detail, so those discoveries she makes of her past world are as intangible to her, as her surroundings and situation are to the reader, creating empathy through omission. As a protagonist she is believable, constrained by circumstance and her own integrity, and living with a constant melancholy that somehow endears her to the reader.