J. S. Monroe talks about his new novel, Forget My Name.
My new psychological thriller, Forget My Name, begins with a woman who arrives off the train in a rural Wiltshire village. She is unable to remember her own name and is without any form of identification, having lost her passport, phone and bank cards at the airport. All she has is a train ticket and a strong sense that she lives in the village. When she approaches the house that she thinks is hers, she peers in through the window, only to see a young couple preparing dinner.
I was haunted by just such an image when I was commuting from my own village in Wiltshire. It was an acutely stressful time in my life. I had a young family and the trains were always delayed. When I returned late, I used to wonder what it would be like if I glanced through the window of my own house – and saw another family preparing for bed.
It turns out that the woman in Forget My Name has psychogenic amnesia, a condition brought on by stress and anxiety. The village GP also suspects that she might be suffering from something called a dissociative fugue, a much rarer form of amnesia. The sufferer travels long distances (the latin word fuga means flight), forgets who they are and adopts a new identity.
My own GP was incredibly helpful when I was researching amnesia, sharing tips on how she would assess the extent of a patient’s memory loss. The most important thing is to establish if it has an organic cause – a head injury, stroke, haemorrhage, brain tumour, drugs etc – or if it’s a case for the psychiatrist. Some reviewers have questioned whether a GP would see the mystery woman on the same day – they should move to our village in Wiltshire!
It was also interesting – and disturbing – to read about the amnesic effects of anxiety medication such as Xanax that is being used recreationally in nightclubs. Mixed with alcohol, the fast-acting benzodiazepine causes blackouts – total memory loss that can extend from several minutes before it’s taken to many hours afterwards, making users vulnerable to date rape.
We all forget things and, as we get older, begin to wonder if it’s innocent forgetfulness or early onset Alzheimer’s. I wanted to push those anxieties to the limit in my new book and there’s nothing more frightening than not being able to recall your own name. It’s unsettling for others too.
Everyone in the village has their own theory about the mystery woman who turns up in their midst. The truth might be any of these – or it might be something far more sinister. If only someone could remember her name…
You are outside your front door. There are strangers in your house. Then you realise… You can’t remember your name.
She arrived at the train station after a difficult week at work. Her bag had been stolen, and with it, her identity. Her whole life was in there – passport, wallet, house key. When she tried to report the theft, she couldn’t remember her own name. All she knew was her own address.
Now she’s outside Tony and Laura’s front door. She says she lives in their home. They say they have never met her before. One of them is lying.
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of six novels, including the international bestseller, Find Me.