Summer 2016 I hear about this book written by a female author from Southeast Asia with a very interesting concept:
There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday (Monos), and those who can also recall the day before (Duos). You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.
Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.
Can you trust the police? Can you trust your husband? Can you trust yourself?
Felicia Yap grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and studied biochemistry at Imperial College London, then earned a doctorate in history at Cambridge University. FACT: I have not come across a lot of Southeast Asian authors who have been published by any of the top publishing companies in the UK/US. The only other one that comes to mind is Zen Cho, who has written The Sorcerer and the Crown. So as someone who grew up in the same region, I was positively excited for Felicia and for her book — nevermind that I don’t personally know her (although I did get to meet her earlier this year, and she was the sweetest!), but I was keen to support a fellow Southeast Asian!
However, Yesterday does not involve any Malaysian/Southeast Asian cultural annotations. It is distinctly a crime mystery thriller, with a hint of science fiction thrown in. The book starts off explaining how this alternate world works: when the memory loss happens, how people have coped with it (they have iDiaries, an invention courtesy of Steve Jobs), the politics and daily nuances that are involved between these two classes of people, Monos and Duos. No one has figured out yet a guaranteed method of how people can get all their memories back.
The main protagonist is Claire Evans, a Mono married to a Duo, Mark Evans, a celebrated author who was running as an MP at the present time of the story. He is being accused of murdering a woman, Sophia Ayling, and the lead investigator of the crime is Hans Richardson, who is known in the force to solve cases in one day. Each chapter of the book is told from the point of view of each of these characters. With their limited memories, they can only recall past events by reading it on their iDiary, and that is dependent on how much detail they have written. To solve the crime, it would involve looking back on previous events, and I was vastly entertained as a reader trying to figure out the mystery as well. Each character has a secret they are trying to protect which makes them unreliable narrators (with the exception of Mr. Richardson, who is mostly there to unearth secrets and solve the crime).
The mystery was somewhat easy to solve, although that may just be me since I made annotations on the margins and dog-eared pages. Felicia dropped those crumbs strategically well and it definitely encouraged me to keep turning the pages! (I remember Faber Academy’s Richard Skinner sharing this tip in his talk at the Emerald Literary Festival, and Felicia is an alumni of Faber Academy) I was not expecting the plot twist at the end, however, and I personally found it anticlimactic. I wasn’t convinced of the motive for the crime, but I can also objectively say that that is my individual take on it, as I’m sure other real-world crimes have been committed for much less.
What interested me the most is the concept of the two classes. There is no mention of race, but there is class discrimination — Duos are considered the better class, and they are the only ones allowed to hold positions of authority in all sectors of society. A Mono marrying a Duo is considered going up the society ladder, while that same Duo marrying the Mono will most likely be disowned by his family. One of the characters is a Mono masquerading as a Duo due to career aspirations. It somewhat echoes our current world, and so it is not hard to imagine the world that Felicia has created in her book.
Yesterday is a well-paced thriller; you can put it under the category “page-turners” and it’s an entertaining companion to take with you on a holiday, or even on a long commute! It is by no means perfect, but it was thoroughly captivating — I finished it in one day!
Yesterday is released in the UK on the 10th of August. The usual online book-selling sites should have it, if you can’t find a physical copy in your local bookshop (yes, Southeast Asia, I’m looking at you).
see ratings explanation
“All aspiring novelists should record snippets of real-life conversations in their diaries if they wish to write good dialogue in their books. [..] though I have a sneaking suspicion that good written dialogue isn’t real conversation, in the same way as good porn isn’t real sex.”
– Felicia Yap, Yesterday
Let’s have a chat!
What are your favourite mystery thrillers?