Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.
Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.
As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.
But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?
Memories. They are strange things, aren’t they? We gather them throughout life, we remember the big events, and the painful moments, and the small joys, and heaps of random details we don’t even care about, and for every little thing we remember, we forget a hundred other things.
Human memory works in mysterious ways. You remember things you had forgotten when a song comes on the radio, or you smell a certain scent, or someone says something completely innocuous, and somehow you’re catapulted right back. Can you imagine what it would be like to suddenly have memories that are yours, but are not yours, all at the same time? Like all you know is having been single and childless and suddenly you remember having been married with children. This is where Recursion starts, with an affliction that seems somewhat contagious in that it often occurs in various people in the same family or group of friends: False Memory Syndrome (FMS).
Barry, NYC cop, is faced with FMS when he tries to stop a woman from committing suicide because she suddenly has all these memories of a life she has not lived, a better life than the one she’s leading, a more fulfilling one, but one she can’t get back to and it’s just too much to take.
Alternating with Barry’s POV, there’s Helena’s, a neuroscientist who’s passionate about creating a way to record memories, so they can be preserved for people like her mum, who has Alzheimer’s and is slowly losing herself. Helena only wants to help people, she’s acting from a totally altruistic starting point, but that doesn’t mean her invention is safe and won’t be abused…
Before long, memories are no longer the focal point, it’s time itself: what if you could use an memory to go back in time?
Start to finish this is a riveting read! I noticed that a few people put Recursion on their “Twenty books of summer”-list, and that’s a great idea because this is an awesome story, but beware that this might not be the best relaxing-by-the-pool book! It had my mind whirring and working overtime! I won’t lie, all the sciency stuff went straight over my head, I do not have a scientific / mathematical bone in my body! But just like with Dark Matter, I simply do not care! I love all the theories, even though I have no idea if they’re rooted in actual present-day science, I simply enjoy reading them, and seeing how the main characters try to make sense of them. I will tell you though, that the idea for Recursion stemmed from the fact that scientists succeeded in implanting a false memory in a mouse. Crouch was also fascinated by déjà vus and the whole Mandela Effect. If you don’t know what that is, please Google it! There are loads of examples of false memories, things loads of people all over the world clearly remember, but never happened or never were the way they (I!!!) remembered. It’s baffling!
While you don’t have to be a science nerd to enjoy this one, it obviously helps if you’re interested in the concept of memories, déjà vus and the whole time debate (is it an arrow flying straight ahead, or is it more fluid than that?). Recursion has the exact same vibe and atmosphere as Dark Matter. (By the way, if you haven’t read Dark Matter, I highly recommend you check it out!) I adored Dark Matter, and Recursion ticked all those boxes too. Besides the science and the thriller aspect, Crouch once again presents us with his specific kind of romance, and the message that love conquers, well perhaps not all, but at the very least a lot.
One last remark: Recursion is not a novel to dip into and out of. I read it in two sittings, and I highly recommend you do the same. Had I read just a few chapters a day, I would have completely lost the plot… But maybe that says more about me than about the plot 😉
Any which way you read it, Recursion is mind-bending, mind-boggling food for thought! Highly recommended!
Many thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the free eARC! All opinions are my own and I was not paid to give them.
If you want to know more about Recursion and the ideas behind it, check out this Q&A with Blake Crouch on Goodreads.