The story follows a man burdened with the inability to forget anything, including the lurid details of his father's death, and his struggle to find a cure for his mother who has all but forgotten her own name. Noel Burun is on a mission to save his dementia riddled mother Stella, a painfully ironic task for a hyperamnesiac synesthete like himself.
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He is incapable of forgetting anything he has ever experienced and to top that off he possesses a rare mental condition called Synesthesia in which sounds and words conjure uncontrollable colors and shapes in his mind. During his happier years, his abilities he considered gifts, but after the suicide of his father and his mother's current decline into Alzheimer's, he feels cursed with the memory of the way things used to be. Life is bearable for Noel in part to having people around him who accept his eccentricities, though these friends of his are not without their own problems. There is the intelligent and intimidatingly handsome Norval Xavier Blaquiere; a misanthropic Canadian-Frenchman with a list of sexual conquests half as long as the alphabet and a fascination with his friend. Norval and Noel could be brothers. They share the same romantic good looks; the same mane of russet curls, the same delicate features, but where Norval is impeccably dressed and dripping with haughty self-assuredness, Noel is sloppily outfitted and reeks of self-doubt and desperation. There is JJ Yelle, the boisterous and smelly mad tinkerer. JJ is always inventing something outlandish and is quite the character, but he would do anything for his friends. Lastly, there is troubled beauty Samira Darwish. All three men have fallen in love with her and she with them, but she has her own pressing matters to attend to.
The four are brought together by their mutual relationships with Dr. Emile Vorta, the morally ambiguous neuro-psychologist Noel relies on to supply his mother's experimental Alzheimer's medication. The four friends eventually move in to Noel's home and begin to help him take care of not only his mother, but also each other. While Noel experiments with different chemicals in his basement laboratory, Norval is bent on winning a destructive bet with the faculty members at the university where he works. The bet stipulates that Norval must sleep with a different woman for every letter of the alphabet and in order. If he wins, he receives $25,000. Meanwhile, Samira is trying to discern the cause of her memory blackouts while JJ becomes invested in the health of Stella Burun. Eventually, Noel manages to concoct a drug to counteract his mother's Alzheimer's which returns her to her previous self. Samira finds that the cause of her memory black outs began after being the victim of an attempted date-rape at a party some weeks prior. Norval does not finish the alphabet. He never makes it past the letter S. He commits suicide instead. In the end, Noel and Samira end up together and live out a quiet life.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really liked this story and all the references to The 1001 Arabian Nights, a story which Noel is obsessed with. In fact the whole book is riddled with references to famous poets and musicians, writers and obscure facts. That was my favorite part. I really enjoyed flipping to the back of the book with all the notes on the references. It made the story feel that much more magical and well-researched.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was the scene in which two men from Noel's father's work come to tell his mother that his father had committed suicide. 7 year old Noel, listening in on the conversation, isn't able to fully focus on what is being said. He can only focus on the the colors of the two men's voices. I think that encompasses Noel's entire experience. He never really hears what people are saying, but he sees the general colors and tones.
Opinion about the main character:
The thing about Noel Burun was he was relateable. At least for me, I can relate to his frustration for not being able to take care of a loved one properly. I felt like, for everything that he had been through, for what he had to carry on his shoulders, his temperament was justified. I liked that in spite of what he was going through, he remained kind to the people around him.