Audiobook Review | The Memory Librarian

I’ve been on a roll with audiobooks recently.

The Memory Librarian
Janelle Monáe

Whoever controls our memories controls the future.

Janelle Monáe and an incredible array of talented collaborating creators have written a collection of tales comprising the bold vision and powerful themes that have made Monáe such a compelling and celebrated storyteller. Dirty Computer introduced a world in which thoughts – as a means of self-conception – could be controlled or erased by a select few. And whether human, A.I., or other, your life and sentience was dictated by those who’d convinced themselves they had the right to decide your fate.

That was until Jane 57821 decided to remember and break free.
Expanding from that mythos, these stories fully explore what it’s like to live in such a totalitarian existence… and what it takes to get out of it. Building off the traditions of speculative writers such as Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Becky Chambers, and Nnedi Okorafor—and filled with the artistic genius and powerful themes that have made Monáe a worldwide icon in the first place – The Memory Librarian serves readers tales grounded in the human trials of identity expression, technology, and love, but also reaching through to the worlds of memory and time within, and the stakes and power that exists there. | Goodreads | Amazon

I’ll be honest I was first interested in this book because I think that Janelle Monáe is very talented and I was curious to see if it was across the board, when I read more about this book I discovered that it further explores a theme that was started on one of her albums, Dirty Computer, and that there was also an ’emotion picture’ created around this world. I watched the emotion picture, which you can find on her YouTube channel, and I loved it, then I downloaded the album too because the songs were just amazing. When I got to the book I realised that I would have found it quite hard to get into had I not taken the route to it that I did.

The Memory Librarian is a collection of five stories, each with a different co-writer, that are based in the world created in Dirty Computer, as they are set in an already established world as a reader you are pretty much thrown into what is happening in the lives of the characters, without too much explanation of the overall context. As I said because I had already immersed myself into the world that Monáe created I was able to pick up the context for the story pretty quickly but I think if this book was being approached on its own it might be harder to connect with.

I have to say I love that Monáe has created a concept that has translated so well to so many different forms of media, and that it carries the same important themes throughout. I do think that the stories in the book didn’t flow together quite as well as I would have hoped, and of course, there are always some that I liked more than others, but they managed to draw parallels to issues and ideas that we face in the world in an imaginative and engaging way.

Listening to these stories definitely helped them come to life, Monáe and Bahni Turpin did an excellent job narrating, effortlessly portraying the diverse array of characters that live in this dystopian world. My only criticism is that the stories could have been broken up a little better for this format, some of them were very long with no easy places to pause and as I was listening when I could, I often had to skip back a little to pick up what was happening when I resumed listening.

Standing on its own I think that The Memory Librarian is a wonderful collection of stories that explore identity and relationships, the impact of this is definitely more profound if you experience the rest of the work set in this world, which I highly recommend that you do. I would be very interested to see what other stories Janelle Monáe will come up with if she dips back into the literary world again, to say I am in awe of her talent for world-building feels like a massive understatement.


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