This book has so much going for it. So much. So it's difficult to slap three stars on it and say “meh, it was okay.” Because it was more than okay, but it wasn't. And it was worth five stars, but it wasn't. What a confusing review.
First off, let me say the second half of The Memory of Love is phenomenal. The story is strong, filled with suspense, tender moments, and those scenes that are hard to ever forget. The characters are interesting and their relationships leave the reader feeling both anxious and comforted. Well done. The pacing is great and almost everything seems to have purpose. The second half of the book is really, really, really exceptional. 4.5 stars.
The first half is largely the opposite of the second. The characters meander through the story, every detail of their boring lives shared. As far as story or character development, very little happens. The details pour out page after minuscule-print page. It becomes a chore and that is not good news for any book, especially when it is the first two-hundred pages one must slog through. 3 stars.
As I neared the end, I really began to love this novel. It was all coming together rather nicely. And then, it didn't pull through. Loose ends were left. Characters became irrelevant. There was no point to so much of the backstory. Essentially, this was a novel about Adrian and Kai and their relationship with one another and with Mamakay. That was the story. So why was so much time spent on Elias and Julius and Saffia? I realize there was somewhat of a “repetition of the cycle” motif, but it didn't fit together well enough to be necessary. And what was the whole thing with Agnes? Why was the reader asked to spend so much time trying to solve the mystery of Agnes if it wasn't relevant? It seems to me that either The Memory of Love needed to add considerable story to make it all fit together, or cut out all that was unnecessary. I vote for the latter.
Aminatta Forna does so much right with this novel. The story is wonderful and the depiction of high-society Africa on the brink of modernization (yet so far from it) is incredibly refreshing. I wish this was a novel I could recommend to others, but in a world with so many other wonderful books it is not quite worth it in the end. My fingers are crossed that Forna will find the right balance the next time out. 3 stars.
Okay, okay, 3.25, but in good conscience I cannot go any higher.