Recently, I was reading a book – well, a manga – and in the second to last volume, the plot tied up beautifully. No loose ends, no unanswered questions. It was great. But hark! There was one more volume left!
Guess what the plot device was in this final volume.
That series has sparked this post. The manga series (back out now if you don’t wanna know what it is) was Demon Diary. The series overall, I rather liked, except this last volume. I finished it with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, and it got me thinking.
I cannot recall a time where I’ve seen the amnesia trope done well. Every time I’ve seen it, it seems thrown over top of the normal plot progression, and in each instance, it’s solved riiiight at the opportune moment and then has no lasting effects on the characters.
It’s gotten to the point where if I know it’s coming, it makes me not want to finish the book, or movie, or tv show, or whatever it is. Because I already know how it ends. The character will get their memories back, either in some ‘flash’ or bit and piece at a time, until they’re normal again, and whatever inconvenience was caused by the memory loss will be resolved. Or, even worse, they’ll use it as a plot device to change romantic interests. Character A will be in love with B, but the author has decided that C should be with them. But, they wrote A and B’s relationship too strong. The only way to reasonably get them apart is for A to forget their love for B and instead fall for C. Queue A getting their memory back and entering into a weird love triangle. Yeesh.
Case in point, I’ve been reading the Temeraire series, and I stopped after the seventh book. Why? Book eight’s synopsis hints at the amnesia trope. Sigh, peel me a grape. The Temeraire series is one of my favorites, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to pick up that next volume. Because hey, whatever problems arise from this plot device will be solved by the ninth and final volume of the series.
So, my question to all of you: Have you ever read a book or watched something where the amnesia trope was handled in a novel way? Did the character never get their memories back? Did the plot get utterly thrown off course and could not recover to what path it had been on? Because I cannot for the life of me think of a single instance.
The more I sit here writing about it, the more irritated I become. So many tv shows and movies and books use this goofy trope, and none of them really go into the science behind it, or they do hand waving to somehow make it work. All of these people hitting their heads hard enough to forget their entire lives never seem to get concussions or like.. any sort of brain damage. It’s just ‘oops I forgot math. What is a math, anyways?’ and then poof, back to normal a few chapters later, like their brain was indented and suddenly popped back to its normal shape.
Somebody please tell me there exists literature where this trope is handled well, and in a way that doesn’t involve a bonk on the head. Pleeeeease.
This post sounded much more articulate in my head, but it ended up with me just going ‘UUUUUGH’ and getting annoyed while sitting on my couch.
But seriously, if you have any non-head-bonky, non-cliche, non-predictable cases of amnesia in literature, do let me know. I’m very interested.
5 thoughts on “Coffee Time: The Amnesia Trope”
I read a book recently that had amnesia, but it was a major plot device and the book was a one off so it worked. Also, the amnesia was brought about by magic. I think amnesia is annoying when it is used in a series as opposed to a one off, since in a series it just feels like the author is throwing one more thing in to extend the plot. But if it is a one off, and is the major conflict in the book, then I don’t think it is so bad for an author to use it. I think it also depends on the extent of the amnesia. If they forget literally everything, then I think things get tricky and authors usually don’t handle it well (like you explained…no repercussions). But in the book I am talking about, a romance, the two were forced to only forget each other. They still remembered everything else. I think that kind of amnesia is handled much better by authors.
How about Before I Go To Sleep? I vaguely remember it is slightly related to amnesia, but they focus more on the secrets and mysteries rather than the condition itself. It’s a pretty fun read though.
Oh gosh I so agree with you here!! I cannot stand the amnesia trope!!
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