They never found Leah Parata. Not a boot, not a backpack, not a turquoise beanie. After she left me that day, she vanished off the face of the earth.
After years of living overseas, Emily Kirkland returns to New Zealand to care for her father, Felix, who suffers from dementia. As his memory fades and his guard slips, she begins to understand him for the first time – and to glimpse shattering truths about his past. Truths she’d rather were kept buried.
A close-knit community is ripped apart by disturbing revelations that cast new light on a young woman’s disappearance twenty-five years ago.
When Emily Kirkland gets a phone call from her father’s neighbour, Raewyn Parata, to say she is worried about her father’s deteriorating mental health, Emily has no choice but to return to her family home in New Zealand. Emily is reluctant to leave London because she has always had a difficult relationship with her father but she can’t ignore Raewyn’s concerns.
When Emily arrives at the homestead, she learns her father has been diagnosed with dementia and she is appalled when she learns how he has managed to conceal his condition for months. A respected doctor in the small town, Felix is more used to being needed and his pride won’t let him admit he now needs help himself. Emily learns her siblings want to put their father into a care home but Felix balks at the idea and Emily finds herself caught in the middle. Reluctantly, Emily decides to remain in New Zealand with her father for a few more weeks until a more permanent solution can be found.
Emily’s visit also coincides with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Raewyn’s daughter, Leah, who set off for a weekend hike in the mountains and never returned. Leah’s fate has hung over the small town like a dark cloud since that fateful day and as Emily was possibly the last person to have seen Leah, she has always been haunted by her disappearance. A seasoned hillwalker and conservationist, Leah was on her way to take samples in the mountains when she stopped at the service station where a teenage Emily was working. Remarking on the inclement weather, Emily had doubts about the wisdom of the trip but Leah was determined to go regardless and Emily’s last memory of Leah was the other woman putting on her turquoise woollen hat. The same hat she soon discovers hidden in her sister’s closet.
As Felix’s memory deteriorates, he begins to talk about things that happened in the past and becomes fixated on the mountains. As Felix was part of the original search party, Emily assumes her father’s memories are muddled but the discovery of the hat chills her. Aware her father may not have been entirely truthful about Leah’s disappearance, she is terrified Felix will suddenly blurt out something damning so she desperately tries to keep him secluded over the winter months. As Emily tries to discern the truth, she realises she never really knew her father at all and when the truth is finally revealed she is distraught.
Remember Me not only examines the effects of dementia on the person afflicted but also the effects it has on that person’s loved ones and it makes for an emotional read. Norman has this amazing ability to lay bare human emotions in a forthright but honest manner and she captures Felix’s deterioration perfectly. As a doctor, Felix is all too aware of how the dementia is going to affect him and his attempts to jog his memory by leaving himself notes all around the house are both genius and heartbreaking. The most poignant note being the one on his noticeboard reminding him he has dementia and the pain of reading that note over and over again in his more lucid moments
For Emily, the diagnosis is no less painful as her father has always been an emotionally distant figure who seemed to have little interest in his children but as her father begins to talk more about the past, she realises he did love them in his own way. Emily learns a lot of truths that will change her perception of Felix not only as a father but also as a man. The journey is an emotional one, full of twists and turns, however the end is beautifully done and very satisfying.