Lisa Brideau is joining us today to talk about her novel, Adrift. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Ess wakes up alone on a sailboat in the remote Pacific Northwest with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She finds a note, but it’s more warning than comfort: Start over. Don’t make yourself known. Don’t look back.
Ess must have answers. She sails over a turbulent ocean to a town hundreds of miles away that, she hopes, might offer insight. The chilling clues she uncovers point to a desperate attempt at erasing her former life. But why? And someone is watching her…someone who knows she must never learn her truth.
In Ess’s world, the earth is precariously balanced at a climate tipping point, and she is perched at the edge of a choice: which life does she want? The one taken from her—and the dangerous secret that was buried—or the new one she can make for herself?
A galvanizing riddle that is just as unmooring as it seems, this sharp character-driven odyssey explores a future challenged by our quickly changing world and the choices we must make to save what matters most.
What’s Lisa’s favorite bit?
While writing my debut suspense novel I developed a tiny obsession with amnesia.
My novel, Adrift, is set fifteen years in the future and it features a main character whose memory has been wiped. She suffers from full retrograde amnesia with loss of all autobiographical memory. Think, Jason Bourne. This is the amnesia where you retain semantic memory, (the general knowledge of the world like capital cities) and procedural memory (how to walk and tie shoes), but you lose all episodic memory (knowledge of particular events one has experienced), and autobiographical information.
Although the type of memory loss in my novel isn’t real, I did a ridiculous amount of research anyway; down the rabbit hole I went in the name of verisimilitude! I quickly encountered the most famous patient in the history of neuroscience: Patient HM, revealed after his death to be a man named Henry Molaison.
And, wow, Henry Molaison was extraordinary.
He suffered from debilitating seizures for years and in 1953, when he was 27, he underwent risky brain surgery to remove his hippocampus and amygdala in an attempt to improve his condition. Good news: his seizures were successfully controlled. Bad news: he was left unable to form new memories – forgetting daily events nearly as quickly as they occurred. He couldn’t learn new words, facts, or faces after his surgery, and he would forget who he was talking to the moment he walked away. He described his state as “like waking from a dream … every day is alone in itself…”.
I was struck by Henry, struck by the… loneliness of his condition – he could remember his childhood, but anyone he met in adulthood was essentially temporary to him. Neuroscientist Dr. Suzanne Corkin met him ten years after his operation and worked with him for forty-six years, spending many days in his company. For Henry, each meeting was their first. All experiences passed through him like a sieve. His operation created a life fully focused on the present which made me confront and appreciate how much of our lives function around experiences accruing, layering, building. All those interactions with people and places that shape us and make life rich; imagine if that was impossible, if those connections just evaporated from your mind.
Henry participated in neuroscience studies for fifty years, providing a wealth of information that transformed our understanding of how memory works. Even in death he contributed, donating his brain to aid further study. It was carefully frozen and sliced into 2401 sections to be photographed and stored as a permanent research resource.
There are other amnesia cases, but something about Henry’s situation really stuck with me. On the one hand, his is a mournfully sad tale, on the other hand Dr. Corkin described him as “a pleasant, engaging, docile man with a keen sense of humor, who knew he had a poor memory but accepted his fate.” And that pleasant man contributed more to neuroscience and understanding of memory function than any other single person, which is a tremendous accomplishment.
If you are also fascinated by amnesia stories, you’ll enjoy Adrift. I did my best to infuse my character with what I learned from Henry and the other amnesia cases I read about. I tried to bring readers along on the ride of how strange and scary it must be to wake up with all your personal memories gone and then have to navigate the world in that state, not remembering any other way of being.
And if you want to go down the rabbit hole of Patient H.M, I highly recommend reading Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesiac Patient, H.M. by his neurologist, Dr. Suzanne Corkin.
LISA BRIDEAU (‘bree-doe’) was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her writing is inspired by the ridiculous quantities of classics and science fiction she read during her formative years with a crust of CanLit layered on top. She currently works as a sustainability specialist in Vancouver, BC. When she takes breaks from trying to mitigate catastrophic climate change, she likes to write speculative suspense novels, practice her waltz, or weave. ADRIFT is Lisa’s first novel.