The Last Witness by K.J. Parker. ★★★
I’ve been hearing a lot about K.J. Parker, and I figured this novella would be a good way to try out his work.
The narrator of The Last Witness has the ability to go into people’s heads and remove memories. Once he has removed a memory, it becomes his own, as vivid to him as if he had actually lived it, and his victims have no idea that the memory even exists. The narrator uses his talent to earn money – his clients hire him to have memories removed, either something that happened to them that they’d rather not remember, or something they want someone else to forget. As a result, the narrator becomes the last witness to a large number of crimes.
As you can probably imagine, the narrator is not a very pleasant person. It’s difficult to say if he’s always been such, or if the weight of so many abhorrent memories has twisted him. Based off of what we see of his childhood memories, I would guess he’s always been this way. But then again, are those memories of his own childhood? Or has he become lost in all the memories he has stolen?
I can appreciate The Last Witness from an intellectual stand point. A large part of the book deals with how history is created through memories. If nobody remembers an event, is it even part of history? Relatedly, our own identity is shaped through memories of our past. But what if they weren’t all our memories? The themes The Last Witness deals with are fascinating.
However, I still didn’t enjoy the novella that much. The protagonist is always a huge factor in how much I’ll enjoy a book. While I can love a story with an unlikable protagonist, said protagonist needs to fascinate and compel me. I just found The Last Witness’s protagonist unlikable. He was such a horrible person that it was hard for me to care at all about him.
The Last Witness doesn’t inspire me to read more by K.J. Parker, but I’m not entirely adverse to the idea of trying something else by him. It’s just not likely to happen anytime soon.