Reflections on Yesterday by Felicia Yap
Yap, Felicia (2017). Yesterday. London: Wildfire. ISBN: 9781472242211
I was intrigued to read the new debut novel Yesterday by Felicia Yap after reading an article in the London Evening Standard focusing on the author’s success with her debut novel coupled with the author’s own interesting back story. Normally I would have skim read this kind of article and made a mental note to self to add this to my list of must remember to read before losing track and forgetting totally to follow it up. However, in this instance the premise of the book intrigued me and as I had an enforced period of rest to contend with thought I would I could do with an engaging read.
“How do you solve a murder when you only remember … Yesterday” is the tag line that introduces the reader to Yap’s world. Having just started a postgraduate certificate course in Narrative Research, the basic premise of Yesterday intrigued me. The book starts with the discovery of the murder of a middle-aged women in a quiet country nature reserve in the quiet backwaters of Cambridge. However, this is an alternative reality universe where the world is made up of two types of people – those who retain two days worth of memories (Duos) and those who only remember one day’s worth of memories (Monos). Class and social division are based on whether you can retain memories foo two days rather than one with Duos considered to be the more superior although Monos make up seventy percent of the population. The cause of this differentation in the novel is believed to be genetic as whilst children and adolescents can retain all their memories, a change happens at eighteen years for Monos and twenty-three years for Duos, whereby they can only retain one or two days of memories respectively.
Whilst the concept of a world made up of Monos and Duos does ask the reader to perhaps suspend disbelief at the start of the novel, it does set the scene for an interesting approach in terms of the book’s narrative direction. There is no clear protaganist as such as Yesterday moves between the narratives of each of the four major characters as the novel progresses. The four key characters that we follow throughout the murder investigation include the marries couple, Claire Evans and Mark Henry Evans; the principal police investigator DCI Hans Richardson and the mysterious Sophia Alyssa Ayling. The gradual intertwining of these characters backstories which we learn about both from the interchange between the characters and also their diary entries, with the advent of modern technology, are not kept on the must-have accessory, the iDiary, courtesy of Apple naturally.
The action of Yesterday unfolds over the course of a single day from the discovery of the murder victim until the crime is resolved by the end of the day. It was definitely a challenge on the part of the author to focus the narratives of the novel around a small cast of characters as the reader would quickly be aware as to who the likely perpetrator of the crime was likely to be, it was just a question of the why and the how. However, there are sufficient twists and turns in the novel to keep the reader engaged with the investigation as it progresses. Each of the characters has flaws which also helps to keep the reader slightly off-balance as you are not sure exactly which of the characters you are meant to be rooting for.
Whilst the core of the novel focused around ideas of love and revenge; (in-)fidelity and loyalty; grief and the protection of those we love, Yesterday also attempts to interweave notions of science fiction, intrigue and suspense and this is helped by the book’s narrative style. I enjoyed the book as much for its narrative style as for the style itself. Following the diary we style, we learn about each of the characters back stories through the entries they have made in their diaries, first pen and paper followed by the iDiary. This raises many interesting questions on how we approach ideas of memory, identity and belonging when your connection to your own past is dependent on the facts you have noted in your diary. The character Claire Evans mentions late on in the novel that “…We are all damned by the facts we’ve decided to learn … Facts remain. They are inseparable from our conscience.” (page 391). This is an interesting concept as it leaves it the characters open to selective editing of their diaries, an thereby their own memories, thereby potentially to curating the memories of their own past. Facts recorded in your diary become the currency of your own past. As the character Claire mentions in a moment of realisation, “Your diary says what you want it to say. Memory equals the facts you chose to retain. We are all victims of the pasts we prefer.” (page 142). The diary therefore provides the opportunity to record the version of your past that you would prefer to believe, a sanitised version of your own past. Yap is successful in opening an interesting debate on notions of memory and truth, identity and self-understanding. How we utilise the facts and memories of our own lives to help formulate own notions of identity in terms of who we are and how we relate to others. Even with our own memories intact, how well do we truly know ourselves and those around us. In the words of Mark Henry Evans, “What happens when truth cannot be recalled? Can we truly know ourselves or others?” (page 293).
Yesterday has also drawn on the diverse experiences of its author. Felicia Yap’s road to her debut novel would make for a fascinating account. Raised in Kuala Lumpur, Yap has followed an intriguing route to date having worked as a cell biologist having read Biochemistry at Imperial College London and a war historian having read History at Cambridge. Mixed in with this has been work as a university lecturer, a flea-market trader and a catwalk model. Yap argues:
“To forget our own pasts is to forget our identities and sense of self. That’s why we’re obsessed with recording everything on our smartphones, taking selfies and tweeting — because they’re forms of remembering. I wanted to tell a story that taps deep into our innermost fears.” (Evening Standard, How Yesterday author Felicia Yap went from Facebook to thriller fiction queen).
Whilst only touched on briefly in Yesterday, there is a timely reference in the novel to the way that technology has come to define us in the modern world and how we have all become dependent on social media and the technological tools which now surround us. In Yesterday, this is represented by the Apple iDiary which is used by many people to keep track of their memories. This of course raises parallels with our own way of life with our increasing dependence on smartphones, tablets and the Internet. I wanted to include the following quote in its entirety because I think it sums up a situation that many of us can relate to:
“Technology defines us, whether we like it or not. These days we are utterly dependent on external devices as repositories of facts, assumptions and memories. We are but the sum of our digital presence. We use iDiaries and social media networks to define and delude ourselves, because that contain what we prefer to remember. What we want the world to see. Yet our carefully curated public personas frequently bear little resemblance to our true inner selves. The two faces of our remembered lives are disparate and often contradictory.” (page 259)
Having worked in the Archives profession for the last fifteen years, the evidential shift from pen and paper to keyboard and touchscreen has been clear to see, as has the way we document our lives from a reliance on the printed word to digital media and the Cloud. Archives also highlight the aspect of how we approach the documentation and preservation of our individual and corporate identity and therefore how we just to represent both ourselves and the communities in which we live. This was one of the key factor for Yap in the writing of Yesterday, when she says:
“So, I wanted the book to reflect our obsession with technology as a medium for remembering. Studies suggest that using Google affects our capacity to remember, paradoxically, because we don’t need to.” (Evening Standard, How Yesterday author Felicia Yap went from Facebook to thriller fiction queen)
To conclude, I would definitely recommend Yesterday and it is not often that I find a novel which justifies being read from start to finish in two sittings these days. The novel’s success is perhaps less on being a murder mystery, but more on the way in which it explores issues narrative, storytelling, memory and identity. The intrigue and readability of Yesterday stems from raising questions about how we formulate notions of our own identity – the narratives of our lives we tell ourselves, the facts we remember about ourselves and those that we choose to ignore. The novel makes for an engaging read and whilst the characterisations maybe a little predictable at times, Yap’s approach of moving the narrative between the four main protagonists does provide the opportunity to hear the story develop from their own unique perspectives. Whilst some of the narrative twists in Yesterday you can see coming, there are still enough surprises within the plot to keep the reader on board. I know for some the very premise of the work might be difficult to believe but it does provide the author the opportunity to explore a narrative approach which does keep you turning the pages.
Yap has already started work on a prequel to this novel, entitled Today and it will be interesting to see which avenues this follow-up work takes and whether it w
Further details on the book and the author can be found on Felicia Yap’s website at http://www.feliciayap.com/