Sam Taylor was born in 1970 and is the former pop culture correspondent for the Observer. His first book, The Republic of Trees, was published to high acclaim in 2005. He lives in France with his young family. His second novel, The Amnesiac (Faber, £12.99), tells the story of James Purdew, a man obsessed with uncovering the events of three years of his life about which he remembers nothing.
1. The Trial by Franz Kafka
As far as I can remember, Kafka never once mentions the idea that his protagonist, Josef K, has forgotten anything of importance, but the possibility haunts every sentence in the novel. Why is he being persecuted for a crime he did not commit? Quite rightly one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.
2. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K Dick
Not a novel (though I could just as easily have chosen A Scanner Darkly or Valis or Time Out of Joint, to name a few), this is the fifth volume of Dick’s collected short stories, and contains two almost perfect examples of the amnesia genre: The Electric Ant, in which a man discovers that he is not a man; and the title story, which was made into the hit movie Total Recall. One puzzling but apt feature of Dick’s stories is that it is very difficult to remember their plots even a few weeks after reading them.
3. The Last of Philip Banter by John Franklin Bardin
Written in the 1940s, this is a brilliantly surreal variation on the noir thrillers of the time. A man goes into his office and discovers a “Confession” on his desk, next to his own typewriter, apparently written by himself, which predicts the events of the following night. Despite his efforts to escape this pre-told destiny, everything happens just as the confession said it would…
4. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
This long, dense, nightmarish novel came as a shock to many of those who had read and loved the best-selling The Remains of the Day, but it may end up as Ishiguro’s most lasting achievement. A famous concert pianist called Ryder finds himself in a mid-European city, which is both strange and unnervingly familiar. As time and space warp all around him, the story takes on the agonising feel of an anxiety dream from which you can never wake up.
5. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Gray’s astonishing debut novel begins with its melancholy protagonist, Lanark, wandering a dystopian city called Unthank, with no memory of who he really is or how he got there, before transporting us back to the childhood and adolescence of someone called Duncan Thaw, who may, it turns out, be the same person. Even more postmodernly, Duncan Thaw may also be Alasdair Gray, who may also make an appearance as The Author. Or perhaps not.
6. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
This gloriously original science-fiction classic, written in a language approximating how English might sound several thousand years after a nuclear holocaust, is less about an individual forgetting his life than a whole society with no memory of what went before. A mesmerising exploration of how partial and fragmented memory – and collective memory – can be.
7. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
A novel in two stories, which unravel in parallel. In the first, a private detective in some weird future dystopia is sent on a wild quest involving a rogue scientist. In the second, a man finds himself, with no memory, in a mysterious and silent walled village. Somehow the two stories are intimately connected…
8. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
A young male amnesiac (he can’t even remember his name, so is referred to throughout the novel as The Kid) roams the smoking, mysteriously abandoned city of Bellona, writing poetry, smashing things up, having lots of sex (with men and women) and forgetting large parts of his everyday existence. Written in the late Sixties, and you can tell, but anyone who loves Haruki Murakami’s fiction might well like this.
9. The Man With the Shattered World by Alexander Luria
Not a work of fiction, but a psychological case study of a Russian soldier, Zazetsky, who suffered a severe head wound during the Second World War, shattering his memory, his visual and bodily perceptions, and leaving him in an utterly fragmented world. To try to “reconstruct himself”, Zazetsky kept a journal of his thoughts and memories, and then attempted to order them. A fascinating and moving book.
10. ? by ?
There was another book I intended to mention here – an absolute classic, I’m certain – but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was…