In her debut novel, Kat Hausler weaves a beautiful, yet incredibly deceptive story of love in her newest book, Retrograde, a novel that questions the meaning of memory and its effect on a relationship. If given the chance, would you go back and try to mend a broken relationship? What happens when the past cannot be forgotten? Is it possible to fix a relationship that was already broken? Does love really matter in the end? Hausler takes a stab at answering all of these questions and more in Retrograde by using the concept of retrograde amnesia to recreate a relationship that was broken, to begin with between Helena and Joachim.
This is an ARC review of Kat Hausler’s Retrograde, which releases September 26, 2017.
*Special thanks to Meerkat Press for allowing us to review ahead of publication.
This review contains spoilers and quotes from the book.
Written from two different present tense, third-person perspectives, Hausler provides two very different sides to a rather difficult relationship through Helena and Joachim, estranged lovers who have avoided divorce for their own reasons. After learning of their separation due to petty fights and a troublesome relationship on Joachim’s part during a break, the novel begins after a three-year separation period, in which neither Helena nor Joachim have spoken to one another.
Just when Helena finds herself finally moving on, she is struck by a vehicle while crossing the street. When she wakes up in the hospital, she finds that she cannot remember the past few years of her life. As Helena and Joachim were never divorced, he arrives at her bedside, ready and willing to help. Once he learns that Helena does not remember their separation, an intricate web of lies are woven in order to rekindle their broken relationship, as it becomes very obvious that Joachim still has feelings for his estranged wife.
Using Helena’s illness as a chance to mend their broken past, Joachim offers to take care of Helena while she heals, as, in addition to suffering from retrograde amnesia, she has a broken arm and a broken leg. At first, Helena does not notice anything off about their relationship—if anything Joachim is more affectionate and caring, something that she associates with the accident itself.
When Helena is released from the hospital, she is taken to the apartment that she lived in with Joachim for years, completely unaware of her life without him. Although she notices a few slight differences in the appearance of the apartment, Joachim’s small lies and her inability to remember make minor concerns just things she’s forgotten as a result of the accident.
At first glance, Joachim’s attempt to reconcile their relationship is touching, to say the least. Although he is lying to her, he lies with good intentions. He wants to make her happy. He wants to explain his side of the story regarding the event that drove Helena to leave him. He wants her to know that he truly loves her. Each and every day he tries to break the news to her gently, confident in his ability to sway her affections in his favor (as their separation was not entirely his fault).
With each passing day, the lies continue, to a point where Helena realizes something is off. While the world is full of possibilities, Helena and Joachim find themselves increasingly trapped in a web of their own lies, as even Helena begins to keep her actions a secret from Joachim as she slowly uncovers the past that she has forgotten.
Life isn’t like that. The future, even the present, is brimming with possibilities. Hundreds, thousands of decisions to make every hour. But there is only one possible past, and no one can change it.
— excerpt from Kat Hausler’s Retrograde
Although it is easy for the reader to be caught up in the budding relationship between Helena and Joachim, it’s just as easy to discern there is something terribly wrong about it. However, as much as I loved the tender and affectionate moments between Helena and Joachim, I found myself increasingly annoyed and creeped out by Joachim’s actions.
At its core, Retrograde touches on themes of love and relationships, ultimately culminating with the question: If given the chance, would you start one of the most important romantic relationships of your life over? The question, in itself, is very difficult to answer. When you love someone, it’s hard to let them go.
Hausler’s debut novel was an incredibly beautiful look at love put through the test of time. Retrograde is very much about the nature of love as it features many of the ups and downs of a difficult relationship. From touching dates and admiration to petty fights and full blown arguments, Hausler’s breakout has it all.
In the end, the question is whether or not a relationship is able to be mended with the help of time and compromise. Of course, being able to mend a relationship thanks to a brief lapse in memory is never a bad thing, either. Full of wonderful, romantic moments and, at times, questionable actions, Hausler’s debut novel is delightful to read that will keep you turning the pages in a frantic attempt to discover whether or not Helena and Joachim remain together.