Happy publication day to Felicia Yap whose stunning debut thriller, Yesterday, is released today. I had the pleasure of meeting Felicia a few months ago at Crimefest in Bristol and when she explained the concept of her book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Yesterday with you in just a moment, but first off, here is what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.
You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.
Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.
Can you trust the police?
Can you trust your husband?
Can you trust yourself?
Wowsers. What a book. This, to me at least, was such an interesting idea to explore. As the tagline states: ‘How do you solve a murder when you only remember yesterday?’ When half of the population of the world can only remember the past twenty-four hours and the remainder only slightly less handicapped in that they remember forty-eight, it certainly adds a unique element of jeopardy to the investigation. The ultimate in ‘ticking clock’ mysteries as it were. When the body of a woman is found in the River Cam, the two main people of interest are on either side of the social divide – one a Mono – the people who can only remember the one day; the other, her husband, a Duo who has the benefit of two days of memory. But is that extra knowledge a blessing or a curse?
It is difficult to go much further into the plot itself beyond this, as to do so risks giving away too much of the story and a lot of the real pleasure in this novel is in the reading. The gradual discovery of each of the significant clues which come to inform the investigation. The story, in its simplest form, is a murder investigation, but in truth, it is so much more than that too. It is a story of deception, betrayal and denial. But how much of this is deliberate and how much caused by the novels unique premise, the presence of a protein which deprives people of their memories, you will need to read to fully understand.
The story itself is told from four perspectives, four unique voices who all have a different take on events leading up to and following the murder. Firstly, we have husband and wife, Mark and Claire Evans, one of which is the main suspect in the murder. Then we have DCI Hans Richardson, the man tasked with solving the murder with such urgency before all memories are lost. Finally, we have the victim, Sophia Ayling, a woman whose life is filled with secrets. It is told in just twenty-four hours, the maximum time necessary to catch all suspects before memories start to fade and as such this feeling of time being of the essence, of being so finite, also spurs the reader onward.
Now as you can imagine, with memories limited to one or two days, recalling the past is very difficult and so people record their thoughts, feelings and significant ‘facts’ in diaries which are then consulted every day. Significant facts are retained to ensure that they are able to interact with people in their lives on a daily basis. Using both real time perspective and diary entries, the four people recount all that has happened, and is happening, leading up to and during the investigation. This provides us hints and direction as to what really happened, but also drops in a number of red herrings as we try to establish which memories, which facts, are in all truth relevant.
This for me was both a brilliant hook, but also one of the only niggles I had about the book. As both Monos and Duos had the ability to commit ‘facts’ to their memory and retain that knowledge indefinitely, I had to wonder what stopped them from recording all memories as fact and thereby having a near complete recollection. But in truth, it was only very key facts that people seemed to retain, such as birth dates, memorable occasions, names and the like, which would be easier to remember for most, and with a host of facts which would have been retained prior to the trigger date for memory loss.
The book certainly made me think and compare to how our own memories work. While I can think back to my youth and remember snippets of my childhood, how much of what I recall is truth and how much have I genuinely either a) forgotten or b) embellished? Have I merely retained ‘facts’, my name, my date of birth, with all that surrounds that being a fuzzy memory? I can say with all surety what I was doing last weekend, so my memory extends beyond twenty-four hours, but ask me to tell you what I was doing two weeks ago … Pass. The book takes this concept up a notch and does it very, very well.
Beyond the slow burning mystery which unravels throughout the novel, Felicia Yap takes a clear look at the class divide – the Monos verses the Duos – the haves verses the have nots. Duos are the exalted members of society. More successful, more talented and overall wealthier. Monos, in comparison, are by and large less educated and less successful. A merging of the two is still frowned upon, the idea met with prejudice, something which can be seen as a metaphor for so many aspects of modern society. Claire and Mark’s marriage is simply not meant to work. There are too many reasons why it should fail and with added pressure of a murder investigation how can it possibly survive? Is it nature, love or a overwhelming sense of duty which keeps them together for over twenty years?
Although the story is built around so few characters, I actually grew to like them all. Mark and Claire are both flawed in their own way, and yet they were characters I could get behind pretty well straight away, and appreciate their motivation and fears. Hans Richardson was a little harder to gauge at first, but as you came to understand his own challenges then you could appreciate more what he was trying to achieve. And as for Sophia. Well from the off you get a clear picture of her character, and while I couldn’t say she was someone I liked, without a doubt she elicited strong emotions in me and I needed to know more about her. She is a very unique character, for reasons which will be obvious when reading the book. But all four have elements which could make them unreliable narrators so just which of them should you believe?
Felicia Yap has done a brilliant job in creating this alternative reality, another version of modern society which mirrors our own in all ways but one. I have seen others question that lack of explanation as to how this situation came to pass. How Monos and Duos came to lose their memories, what the root cause was. To me this was not important. This was a simple ‘fact’; a reality that in this world exists. The reason of why it occurs matters less than the impact of situation in itself, and if you accept this then you will understand how unique this book actually is.
Rather cleverly, Yap captures the prejudice and distrust in the two sides of the social divide perfectly. While I have to say that I could see in which direction some of the plot was heading, there were elements which were a revelation and completely took me by surprise. Most importantly, she has an engaging and absorbing style of writing and has written a story which drew me in from the off. It was a daring premise, one which was pulled off with aplomb.
A very exciting debut and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
My thanks to publishers Wildfire Books/Headline and Netgalley for the advance copy of Yesterday for review. It is released today and available from the following retailers.