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Tell Me an Ending

A Novel

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Never Let Me Go meets Black Mirror in this thrilling dystopian debut about a tech company that deletes unwanted memories, the consequences for those forced to contend with what they tried to forget, and the dissenting doctor who seeks to protect her patients from further harm.

What if you once had a painful memory removed? And what if you were offered the chance to get it back?

Tell Me an Ending follows four characters grappling with the question of what to remember—and what they hoped to forget forever.

Finn, an Irish architect living in the Arizona desert, begins to suspect his charming wife of having an affair. Mei, a troubled grad school drop-out in Kuala Lumpur, wonders why she remembers a city she’s never visited. William, a former police inspector in England, struggles with PTSD, the breakdown of his marriage, and his own secret family history. Oscar, a handsome young man with almost no memories at all, travels the world in a constant state of fear.

Into these characters lives comes Noor, an emotionally closed-off psychologist at the memory removal clinic in London, who begins to suspect her glamorous boss Louise of serious wrongdoing.

Clever and propulsive, Tell Me an Ending is a speculative novel exploring what the world would be like if we were able to wipe away our worst moments. In this polyphonic tale, author Jo Harkin raises provocative questions about the nature of memory, through characters who confront new knowledge about themselves and a need for answers, meaning, connection, and story.

This reading group guide for TELL ME AN ENDING includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Dr. Noor Ali is a psychologist working at Nepenthe, a memory removal clinic in London. Public opinion of the company is in decline following the discovery that memories might not be permanently gone—and clients’ subsequent lawsuit demanding the right to get them back. Although Noor usually disregards the daily protests, she starts to suspect her boss, Louise, of questionable practices.

As the company honors its obligation to offer restorations to all patients, including those who chose to forget having had the procedure, four characters’ lives are touched by the question of whether to remember: Finn, an Irish architect, begins to suspect his wife of infidelity. Mei, a troubled grad school dropout, has flashbacks from a city she has never visited. William, a former police inspector, struggles to understand the origins of his PTSD. Oscar, a young man with almost no memories at all, knows only that he is on the run.

Everyone is searching for answers.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What is your opinion of Nepenthe’s memory removal technology? If it were real, would you support the removal of traumatic memories? Would you consider undergoing the procedure yourself?

2. Tell Me an Ending tackles themes of memory and identity, weaving in philosophical ideas from Locke and Hume. Do you believe that one’s sense of self depends on memories? Are memories just a part of what makes up a person’s identity? And is there such a thing as a consistent self or identity?

3. Noor’s memory of her complicated romance with Elena is woven throughout her narrative. What does this relationship add to your understanding of Noor?

4. Even before her memory wipe, Mei deleted all her online conversations with her former friends, untagged herself from their photos, and unfriended them on social media. Talk about the ways you, or those you know, have tried to manage memories.

5. When Finn and Mirande discover that she secretly had a memory removed, Finn begins to suspect her of infidelity. By the end of their story he has reached a decision about their marriage. How do you think he resolved his internal struggle, and what effect did his daughter Ri have on his state of mind?

6. In light of the discovery of Mirande’s memory removal, how do you think the story might be different if we followed her instead of Finn?

7. Mei and Oscar are troubled by the missing parts of their own lives and want to figure out their pasts, despite the fact that they agreed to remove those memories for the sake of their mental health. What does this ironic circumstance suggest about mental health care? Of human nature?

8. What do you think about the way Louise handled her daughter’s psychological struggles? Do you think she did what she genuinely thought was best for her daughter, or were her motives more self-serving?

9. After discovering the details of Oscar’s past, were you surprised? What did you suppose [ML1] [WK2] Oscar might have done before discovering the truth?

10. What did you think of Louise’s reasoning about her secret activities at the clinic? Do you side more with her or with Noor?

11. Do you think that William was helped by his memory removal, or did it cause him more harm in the end? How do you think he could have been better supported in his struggles?

12. Compare the first quote in the epigraph by Sartre, “A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others . . .” and Louise’s statement, “There are no stories. There are no rules. There are no answers.” (p. 419). How do you think these conflicting ideas capture the novel?

13. In her investigation, Noor reflects on three stories: Captain Kirk’s forgotten love with Rayna in an early Star Trek episode, Orlando Paladino, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Why do you think these three narratives come to mind? How do they guide Noor in her analysis of memory and the implications of forgetting?

14. How does Noor evolve as a person over the course of the story?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Test your memory! Have someone show you a picture and ask you to memorize as much as you can. Then, have them put the photo away and quiz you on details immediately, five minutes later, an hour later, then a day later. See how accurate your memory is each time.

2. The novel is informed by the results of scientific studies on memory. In the author’s note (p. 433), Jo Harkin mentions Nader, Schafe, and LeDoux and their groundbreaking work demonstrating the existence of memory reconsolidation. Consider reading more about their research.
Photograph by Harkin/McCarthy

Jo Harkin studied literature at university. She daydreamed her way through various jobs in her twenties before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Berkshire, England, and Tell Me an Ending is her first novel.

"As thought-provoking as it is suspenseful.” CrimeReads

“Thrilling. . . . Harkin masterfully probes her characters, questioning whether deleted memories translate into altered narratives that fundamentally transform who a person is.” —Shelf Awareness Pro

"This high-concept debut asks an interesting question: What if we could edit our memories? . . . Harkin builds a picture of a world radically altered by a controversial technology and of people who are learning that you can’t change the past without impacting the present. An intellectually and emotionally satisfying thriller." Booklist 

"A richly imagined debut. Harkin keeps the plot tight and times her reveals effectively. It adds up to a smart speculative outing.” Publishers Weekly

“Intriguing and compelling. . . . Interconnected storylines all arrive at the same conclusion: Messing with memory is messy business.” Kirkus Reviews

"Clever and imaginative, Tell Me an Ending is a riveting and thought-provoking exploration of one of our most precious and fragile powers: the ability to remember the moments of our lives." Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Dreamers

“An extraordinary novel—intelligent and searching, with deep questions about humanity, history and self. Expansive in its scope and themes, but never losing touch with its characters’ hearts and minds, Tell Me an Ending is gripping, inventive, and a memory I’ll never forget.” Emma Stonex, author of The Lamplighters

"A twisting, electric debut exploring the potential for a life without our most painful or regretful memories. Tell Me an Ending examines the intersection of self and memory—when chosen memories can be removed—and how what we attempt to leave behind eventually catches up with us." —Meredith Westgate, author of The Shimmering State

"A cautionary tale about technology making its way into the very depths of our personal lives, Tell Me an Ending is thought-provoking and utterly compulsive." —Tahmima Anam, author of The Startup Wife

"Suspenseful, richly imagined, and brimming with compassion, Jo Harkin’s Tell Me an Ending poses tantalizing questions about technology, ethics, capitalism, memory, trauma, and fate. How far would we go to live a happier life? Who are we without the memories that have shaped us? A feat of ingenious, intricate world-building. I finished the last page desperate to discuss this brilliant novel with everyone I know." Jessamine Chan, author of The School for Good Mothers