The Memory Keepers Daughter

The Memory Keepers Daughter - This novel serves to emphasise the complexity & diversity of human beings. It is written in a wonderful style and has well developed characters that will fuel your book club discussions.

This book is an easy read and a real page turner.

You'll find the style a real delight and the story itself is interesting.

There's plenty to talk about for a book club, including some rather controversial topics.

For example, the main character gives his daughter away because she has down syndrome

The Plot

The Memory Keepers Daughter is a story about the separation of twins at birth because of Downs Syndrome.

The plot of The Memory Keepers Daughter is very good. The stories of the twins separated at birth without their mother, Norah, knowing the whole picture, run parallel to each other, governed by the passage of time .

Of course, there is far more about David, Norah & Paul's story because this is where the BIG secret & the guilt are.

In contrast, Phoebe has a happy, loving childhood, with her "mother" who loves her unconditionally & who fights relentlessly to improve conditions for Phoebe & other similar children.

In contrast to the expectations put upon Paul & the slow disintegration of his parent's marriage, it's such a loving story, so much so, that we can easily forget that Caroline selfishly absconded with the baby without Norah's knowledge;


The main character has to be David; he is a complex man, fashioned, as we all are, by his roots. Is he responsible for all the misfortunes in the novel? I don't think the writer intends us to see him in this way.

We are told too much about his youth, the poverty of his family & the deep pain caused by the illness & death of his sister etc. All this has a purpose. From the very first page, we realise how intense, protective & passionate he is about Norah, further emphasised by the eleven years difference in their ages, whilst the poverty probably accounts for his drive, his ambitions & his expectations, particularly of his son, Paul.

Yes, he is believable & well rounded. The writer characterises Norah & Paul in the same way, & to a lesser extent, for obvious reasons, Caroline & Phoebe.

He also cleverly uses minor characters to help us to get to know more about main characters. For example, we learn more about Caroline & Phoebe through Al whilst Bree helps us to gain greater insight into what makes Norah tick.

Rosemary acts as a catalyst for David, for the release of years of emotions & guilt. She symbolically, & in reality, cuts him free. She also represents the daughter he let go; hence his care & support of her & Jack.


The major theme in this book is the lack of communication.  David & Norah grow apart very slowly  because of the BIG secret about Phoebe; in fact when David  shows his disapproval of a service for her "dead" daughter, Phoebe, their separateness is palpable. 

As time moves on & the lack of communication continues, so the guilt, the second major theme, grows, becoming all powerful & permeating every moment & corner of their lives; ie. David, Norah & Paul.

Lack of communication is a common theme in Literature; it is certainly well explored through these three characters.

Escapism provides another theme; Norah turns to drink, Paul turns to drugs (temporarily), David turns to his profession, working long hours & immerses himself symbolically in photography & in 1964 even Caroline escapes from a world without a husband & therefore without means of having a child.

Expectations feature here too specially between David & Paul. Because of his experiences with poverty, David wants Paul to go for a "safe" profession & not into the less safe music industry.

David & Paul  also illustrate the generation gap. The latter 2 points are highlighted through Paul who has always had  plenty of everything; he can't be expected to understand what his father has experienced.


Did you change your views/become more knowledgeable  on down syndrome after reading The Memory Keepers Daughter?

Given David's past, can he be excused for giving away his daughter? Why or why not?

Is it plausible that Catherine would and could have taken the baby (the book is set in the late 1960's) - Do you think it would have been as easy today?

If you knew you were going to give birth to a down syndrome baby, would you keep it or terminate?

Discuss the theme of guilt in this book. Which characters have to endure guilt?

Have you ever chosen to keep a secret and then wished you hadn't? What happened?

How much influence should parents have on the career choice of their sons/daughters?

The author uses descriptions of  landscapes, the earth and flowers regularly. What do you think the author is trying to achieve?


Our book club gave The Memory Keepers Daughter 7/10.  We loved the fact that this was an easy read, a real page turner and yet, it had a wonderful writing style - sometimes a page turner can score low marks due to its poor style.

The use of language is wonderful.  The language & the landscape give a gentleness to the story, softening it at the edges, helping us to see differing perspectives in a softer landscape, helping us to see that we are complex creatures, all capable of good & bad, kindness & unkindness, joy & sorrow, & so on.

Page 89 "Outside, rain fell softly, & seeds stirred in the dark, wet earth."

There was plenty of interesting discussion around how much blame could be proportioned to David, as well as some differing opinions around Down Syndrome too. Plenty to discuss here.

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