Child abuse and its aftermath permeated Trezza Azzopardi's debut novel, The Hiding Place, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize. In her disturbing and mesmerizing second novel, Remember Me, she utilizes the sad, lonely life of one woman to explore some of the underlying causes of homelessness.
The novel's opening finds 72-year-old Winnie Foy living in an abandoned shoe repair shop in a small English village. She has just been burglarized her wig and her satchel with all her belongings stolen by a young girl who vanishes into the night. As Winnie recalls what keepsakes are now lost to her, perhaps forever, she steps back in time, forced to remember years of long-buried hardship and mistreatment beginning in the 1930s, when Winnie grew up as Patsy Richards, a girl called "simple" by the townsfolk. Her mentally ill mother dies when Patsy is seven; she goes to live with her grandfather, who calls her Lillian, and her father visits once a week. With the approach of war, many children are removed to the country for safety, and young Lillian is sent to live with her aunt. Her father doesn't come to say goodbye, but Lillian sees his suit hanging in the pawnbroker's window, so she waves goodbye to that instead.
After several years of living with her aunt and "not a single other person . . . no one to call me by name," Lillian falls in love at 15 with a local boy, who calls her Beauty. They plan to run away together, but when she becomes pregnant, he disappears, and her aunt sends her away. Lillian is taken in by Bernard and Jean Foy, a clairvoyant and his sister, who find commercial potential in Lillian's ability to "see things." She remembers being afraid. "I had no money, I was pregnant. All I had was a head full of buzzing sounds I couldn't make sense of. No one wanted me, my father never came." But the Foys wanted her; this is why she thinks she became so "bendable," allowing them to do whatever they wanted, including changing her name to Winnifred and tricking her into having an abortion.
Winnie decides to leave the Foys, then learns that her grandfather has died in the war. She finds lodging in a boarding house, but is soon discovered there by Jean Foy, who accuses Winnie of stealing from her, and drops her off at a home for thieves, the mentally ill, and women of "ill repute." There, Winnie has no visitors and is treated as an object, not a person, for more than 20 years; she is finally released when she is forty. In her search for the few items providing links to her past, Winnie remembers more and more of the intervening years, including her attempt at kidnapping a child to replace the one removed from her against her will. Memories of being alone, used and rejected slowly pour around her. Azzopardi reveals her poignant litany of rejection a little at a time, like a time-release capsule, until the portrait of Winnie's life gradually comes into focus. Her style of writing in erratically juxtaposed blocks of time can be a challenge, but the compassionate character study which emerges is well worth the effort. Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.