Douglas Cooper Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Douglas Cooper Amnesia

Born in 1960, Cooper is a Canadian novelist.

Set in present-day Toronto, Canada, Amnesia (1992) concerns an unnamed narrator who, hours before his wedding, is confronted in his office by Izzy Darlow, a stranger who commences to relate his life story to the narrator. The narrator, a municipal archivist in charge of overseeing the collection of plans for the city, suffers from amnesia caused by the shock of a past event. He never attends his wedding, but through Izzy's stories pieces together the events of his life which, he discovers, is intimately connected to those of Izzy, his family, and a mental patient named Katie. Like the narrator, Izzy and Katie suffer from identity crises: Izzy's personality was split in two, with one half of himself transformed into a monster, after being caught in a machine one of his brothers built in order to resurrect dead animals, while Katie lost all memory of her past after undergoing electric shock therapy in the asylum to which she was committed following her rape and subsequent nervous breakdown. As with the narrator, Katie rediscovered her past through the stories Izzy told her while he was an employee at the asylum. Structured around a quote from Sigmund Freud—"The mind is like a city"—Amnesia contains explicit references to such works as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1600–01), Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), and Anton Chekhov's The Seagull (1896), and addresses such themes as storytelling, memory, insanity, and the nature of identity. Critical reaction to Amnesia, which was originally published in the United Kingdom and Canada in 1992, has been mixed. While some consider the novel's plot and structure confusing, others describe it as unified and tightly integrated, praising Cooper's use of interrelated symbols and images. Noting the novel's dark and troubling tone, Douglas Hill has written that "[Cooper's] imagery is scary and erotic; his prose is low-keyed but suggestive. In the end, it's his imagination of the borders between the real and the magical, the sane and the psychotic, that gives the novel its considerable power to unsettle."