Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Remember Me

A Novel

by Trezza Azzopardi

“A mesmerizing meditation on loss itself and the subjectivity of perception. . . . Remember Me is a novel of abandonments and absences. . . [Azzopardi] unrolls the plot with stealth and skill. . . . [The] passages of beauty–and they are many–do not jar because the author has created a complete world for them, fashioned a calm, coherent form of diction to describe them. Throughout Remember Me, Azzopardi maintains a curious and delicate balance between the harshness of Lillian’s half-perceived life and the faint shimmers of hope that wash through it. This is a novel to be remembered.” –Catherine Lockerbie, The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date February 17, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4176-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

Set in England against the backdrop of World War II, the much anticipated second novel by the Booker Prize finalist and national best-selling author of The Hiding Place is a story of pursuit: of stolen goods, of missing years, and of one woman’s forgotten history

The only debut novel to be short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2001, The Hiding Place became a national bestseller and established Trezza Azzopardi as an international sensation. With her second novel, Remember Me, Azzopardi delivers a harrowing, elegant, and vivid portrait of a lost life at last reclaimed.

Seventy-two-year-old Winnie–homeless and abandoned time and again by those she’s trusted–would say she’s no trouble. She is content to let the days go by, minding her own business, bothering no one. Winnie would rather not recall the past and at her age doesn’t see much point in thinking about the future. But she is catapulted out of her exile when a young girl robs her of her suitcase and her wig–Winnie’s only material possessions. With nothing else to show for her life, these few pieces are irreplaceable to her; she wants them back.

Winnie then embarks on a journey to find the thief, and what begins as a search for stolen belongings becomes the rediscovery of a stolen life. Forced to take stock of how events long buried have brought her to a derelict house on the edge of nowhere, she relives the secrets of a past she had disowned. From her childhood in the 1930s and the upheaval caused by a feuding family, to the dislocation caused by World War II, and finally to the days leading up to her “fall,” Winnie recalls a series of revelations and betrayals so disturbing it is no wonder she was driven out of normal society and onto the streets.

As she pieces together the fragments of her life, her once secluded world begins to fill with people–including her devoted father, the haunting figure of her mother, and her domineering grandfather–and Winnie recognizes that she is no longer simply on a hunt for stolen goods. After all these years, she has not escaped from her life at all: she has been circling it, and must now come to terms with it.

Tags Literary


“A mesmerizing meditation on loss itself and the subjectivity of perception. . . . Remember Me is a novel of abandonments and absences. The title is not a shriek of despair or a command: it is a quiet plea. . . . [Azzopardi] unrolls the plot with stealth and skill. . . . [The] passages of beauty–and they are many–do not jar because the author has created a complete world for them, fashioned a calm, coherent form of diction to describe them. Throughout Remember Me, Azzopardi maintains a curious and delicate balance between the harshness of Lillian’s half-perceived life and the faint shimmers of hope that wash through it. This is a novel to be remembered.” –Catherine Lockerbie, The New York Times Book Review

“[Azzopardi] writes with such poetry and urgency. . . . She gives a voice to one whom the world has dismissed as unworthy. When Winifred says Remember Me, she is speaking not only to the reader but to herself.” –Elizabeth Gold, The Washington Post Book World

“Eerily moving. . .

. Remember Me is gorgeously written, keenly and sympathetically observed: a chiller with a human face.” –Cathleen Medwick, O, The Oprah Magazine

“Elegant. . . . The simplicity of Azzopardi’s prose progressively corrodes, and other colors and textures sizzle through, resulting in a rich if disturbing narrative. . . . Remember Me draws our attention first to how memory is fashioned and pieced together, and secondly to how our sense of ourselves as a whole hinges upon believing that others carry an image of us with them. The title of the novel then becomes both a command and an appeal.” –Zarena Aslami, The Chicago Tribune

“Trezza Azzopardi’s second novel, Remember Me, is admirable, moving. . . and almost pious in its joylessness. . . . There’s no mistaking the careful craft evident on every page of [The Hiding Place’s] successor.” –David Kipen, The San Francisco Chronicle

“[Azzopardi] creates images so vivid that they leave their silhouettes behind her readers’ eyes, and the ugliness of the world becomes gorgeous and haunting–although no less horrifying–in her rendering.” –Christina Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly

“Through the perceptions of a simple-minded elderly woman whom most of us would pass on the street without a second glance, Azzopardi has created a complex and captivating novel, giving voice to a character who might otherwise be voiceless. Remember Me is a tale of bitter loss, rejection, and betrayal that is impossible to put down.” –Theresa May Yaukey, Bloomsbury Review

“Azzopardi is an immensely skilled storyteller and her book crackles with intelligence. The reader can feel the passion in her work, and the prose, always elegant yet precise and powerful, is a feast. Moreover, the book’s architecture is superb. . . . Though the story in infinitely sad at times, you never hear violins. [Azzopardi] excels in depicting the life of a homeless person; the fears, the solitude, preoccupations. . . . [Remember Me] should establish Azzopardi as one of the best writers of her generation.” –Jean Charbonneau, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Remember Me swirls from one shocking revelation to another, until its chilling, jaw-dropping resolution. . . . could be the most unforgettable book of the year.” –Robert Allen Papinchak, The Seattle Times

“Azzopardi’s forte is a seductive, supple prose that darts from sensuous evocation of people and places to blissful reverie to haunting moments of loneliness. . . .Another sign of a talented wordsmith on the rise.” –Dan Cryer, Newsday

“Written with such unblinking poetic intensity that a story of radiance arises from the bleak pages. . . . [Azzopardi] has written a book that breaks the rules of expectation, a work of remarkable insight, which tunes with perfect pitch into the voice of isolation. . . . Neither a realist nor entirely an impressionist, she writes with a magical, sometimes surreal, often cinematic vision. The book is drenched with color and illuminated by recurrent symbols.” –Elsbeth Lindner, The Miami Herald

“Trezza Azzopardi’s second novel, Remember Me, lingers in the reader’s mind with its haunting portrayal of mental illness, homelessness and utter hopelessness. . . . The ending of the book takes an unexpected turn and again lingers with the reader, long after the cover is closed.” –Sara J. Kuhl, Wisconsin State Journal

“Azzopardi ups the stakes and wins. . . . An exciting thriller.” –Bruce King, World Literature Today

“[Azzopardi] goes beyond a convincing portrait of a “bag lady” in 72-year-old Lillian. This beautifully written novel slowly divulges Lillian’s hidden life against the backdrop of World War II. . . . We follow the “twists’ of her life, backward and forward, toward her final confrontation with her own misdeeds. Ultimately we contemplate theft of a real life and identity, unreliable memory and artifacts as proof of life.” –Olive Mullet, Grand Rapids Press

‘moving. . . . A harrowing, painful story, saved from melodrama by the unsentimental first-person perspective and a challenging, elliptical narrative. . . . As the pieces of the plot begin to fall into place, [Remember Me] gains sweep and power, building to an unexpected (and unexpectedly horrifying) climax.” –Publishers Weekly

“Azzopardi’s prose is spellbinding. Her rendering of a soul unmoored is keenly poignant. The mysterious and involving situations she conjures are fairy-tale-like in their haunting harshness and deep resonance, and her subtle questioning of our notions of identity, family, and the claims of the dead make for a profoundly contemplative read. . . . [Azzopardi] hones both her craft and her insights to create a darkly mystical tale of loss, betrayal, and disconnection.” –Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“[Azzopardi] makes Winnie’s bleak life compelling by completing the jigsaw of her addled world piece by piece until it makes sense.” –Kirkus Reviews

‘mesmerizing. . . . [Azzopardi] utilizes the sad, lonely life of one woman to explore some of the underlying causes of homelessness. . . . Azzopardi reveals her poignant litany of rejection a little at a time, like a time-release capsule, until the portrait of Winnie’s life gradually comes into focus.” –Deborah Donovan, Bookpage

“Azzopardi’s writing, full of slick and unobtrusive gestures at her narrator’s hidden horrors, possesses a visceral, dream-like quality. . . . Brilliantly conceived and crisply concluded.” –Oliver Robinson, Time Out London (Book of the week)

“A remarkable novel. . . . Azzopardi’s treatment of dispossession is so convincing, so empathetic and excruciatingly moving. . . . With Remember Me, she has achieved something powerful and unique; she has given voice to the voiceless, outlining tragedy from one remove, and driving the suffering home with a force and lack of affectation that a more emotional rendition would fail to deliver. This is a courageous enterprise.” –Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian (UK) and author of Skin

‘reaching out through the crowd of lies, the novel’s title is like a clutch to the ankle of a passer-by: ‘remember me.” It is chokingly significant, and central to this extremely powerful book, that Azzopardi can only ask us to remember those we can no longer help or understand.” –Helen Brown, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“It is when Azzopardi is recounting the most cataclysmic events that her prose is at its most soaring and lyrical. . . . What sets [Remember Me] aside and makes it a really fabulous book is the language; the images and cadences switch from fairytale sinister to biblical intensity making reading Remember Me a rich, dark and memorable experience.” –Kate Thomson, Waterstone’s (UK)



Although Winnie is a fictional character set in a fictional Norwich, she was inspired by Nora Bridle, a resident of the streets of Cardiff. I am indebted to everyone who took the trouble to write to me with their memories of Nora.

* * *

I’m not infirm, you know: I am my grandfather’s age. That’s not so old. And the girl didn’t frighten me; she just took me by surprise. I don’t know how long I lay there. I only heard her, first. The door at the front of the house was stiff; you had to put all your weight on it, come winter, just to shift it an inch. It groaned if anyone came in. The girl made it groan. It was quiet for a bit, then there was a soft sound, footsteps, someone on the stairs. She came up careful over the broken treads. I wasn’t afraid: there was nothing to steal. There was nothing anyone would want. Mine wasn’t a house with a TV set or a video player, there was no computer, no jewellery in boxes, no money.

All it had was empty rooms, and me. And it wasn’t even my house. None of this mattered to her. She was looking for something else entirely, but I didn’t know it then; I only heard her as she came.

I’d settled for the night in the corner of what used to be the front bedroom, tucked myself in next to the alcove where it was warmer. The girl stopped at the doorway, then went over to the fireplace, holding her hands out for a minute in front of the heat. I thought maybe she hadn’t seen me; unless you were looking, I’d be easy to miss. I watched her slip across to the far end of the room. On the wall, her shadow was giant. From the corner, she studied me. The fire died down and I kept still. I wasn’t afraid, then; she could please herself, is what I thought. She’s only a girl, and not the first I’d seen on the streets. She did nothing for a while, just stood there. The wind was butting at the glass, but she didn’t shift. She was black in the darkness, and when she finally moved, it was a creeping thing she did: slowly, slowly, feeling her way over to where I lay. I thought she wouldn’t take any notice of me. I was wrong. I closed my eyes and kept still, like a mouse in the shadow of a cat.

The next thing I knew, her hands were on my face. I couldn’t look; I was playing dead, and she was so quick, running her fingers over my head, under my chin, along my neck.

And just as quick, she was away, jumping the treads at the bottom of the stairs, shrieking like a firework as she landed. I could feel my heart, like a bird, trapped in its cage, banging at my ribs. She wasn’t out. She was in the hall. She was moving through the back of the house. A shunt of sash, a blast of air: she was gone.

I stayed quite still. I think I was in shock. The day came up and showed me an empty room, a dead fire, a blue morning. All that I had left was the plastic bag with the face on it. I kept it in my inside pocket, next to my heart. She didn’t get that.

It’s only another loss; it’s not as if I’ve been harmed. I’d like to say she didn’t touch a hair on my head, but that would be a lie.


I’ll take my time. It won’t do to miss things out. I’m sure I’d never seen her before: names won’t stay with me, but a face is my prisoner for life. I’d been living in the house for a good while. To be straight, I was living in just the upstairs room. It wasn’t always empty either; people came and went. I didn’t mind them and they didn’t mind me, and sometimes we knew each other. It used to be a shop, on a parade that was full of shops: Arlott’s the butcher, a bakery with its bicycle outside, a post office run by two old women who looked like twins; and this one on the end, which was a fancy cobbler’s. It had a sign painted in gold across the window: Hewitt’s Shoe Repairs and Fittings, with Bespoke picked out in smaller lettering underneath. The front was already boarded up when I came back, but the words were still there in the glass; you could see them, etched backwards, from the inside. I knew what it said anyway: I had visited this place when I was a girl. Hewitt led me into the back room, for a fitting, he said. Called it the Personal Touch. He had Devices, Methods, cunning hands.

The only window that wasn’t boarded up was the upstairs bedroom at the front, which is why I liked it. At night, you could look out at the blackness, see the stars. All the other sleepers stayed downstairs. They were just lads, really, lads with nowhere else to go. Lads afraid of ghosts. They said they could hear Hewitt bumping about, and one of them told me he saw him on the top landing, holding an iron bar above his head. Describe him then, I said, and the lad puffed himself out big and made a roar. Well, that wasn’t Hewitt; he was small, with a face like a ventriloquist’s dummy and a voice to fit, as if he’d got a tiny man trapped in his throat. So perhaps the lads were just trying to scare me off. They couldn’t know, could they, that Hewitt’s ghost wouldn’t frighten me one bit; it wouldn’t hurt me to think of his restless spirit. But I don’t like to think of Hewitt at all, if I’m true – not of him, or his time. I used to call it Before, like BC but without the Christ. Then I stopped calling it anything, and the past didn’t trouble me. This is the only time there is, I used to tell myself: there never was a Before. I’d got to thinking it was a fact. That was how I managed.

It’s not as if I was a derelict. I knew what I wasn’t, even if I didn’t know what I used to be. And I can remember things if I’m pushed. The Sisters from the House had found me a place. Let me out the side door and put me on my way. Run by nuns, they said, as if I hadn’t had enough of them already. I might have gone there, but I knew what they would want; they would want to cleanse me. Start with my soul, I’d say, but they wanted me clean from the outside in, pulling at my clothes like a clutch of thieves. They said I was an Object. An Object who had fleas. They said cleanliness is next to godliness. Well, I know that’s a lie. I wasn’t having that, lying nuns and thieving to boot. And it was me who was supposed to be the thief, me the liar.

When the Sisters decided I could obey the rules, they let me go. I took my case and walked. And when I found Hewitt’s place again, I stayed. They’d laugh at me now, the nuns; now that I’ve lost everything to a sly girl in the dark.

The day she came was ordinary. Sometimes there’s an event, like a snow, or a funfair, or Christmas lights going on in the city, and it reminds you how the year rolls over.

But mostly there’s no edge, just tumbling days, which is how I like it. I have a routine which is rarely spoiled; it stops me having to think. I go down to the open market in the morning to fetch boxes. I like the colours on the fruit and veg stalls, and the men there never change. The stalls are on one side, and a row of shops on the other with girls’ dresses – bits of rag more like – on dummies in the windows. They wear smug, eyeless smiles, expensive clothes; some of them are bald, some naked. They’ve nearly all got bare feet. I stay on the stalls side.

They call it The Walk, this street, and it is like a place to promenade, with the castle on the mound, and the market with its awnings, and the two grey churches crouched like dogs on either side. At the back of the market is the city hall, which I’ve been to often enough, and round the back of that is the police station. I’ve been there too, if I’m true.

No, there was nothing exceptional to the day, unless you count the pumpkins. All the stalls were orange with them, piled up on each other, glowing like a monstrous hatch. They were for cutting into faces. Some of the stallholders had made their own lanterns and hung them over the displays, grinning and twirling in the wind. The thought of them at night-time, lit up and jeering, was horrible to me. I was lucky with the firewood. There were lots of crates, on account of all the pumpkins. I found some broken bits, and the boy on the flower stall gave me a bin liner to carry them in.

There was a panicky sort of wind about, swirling every­thing up from the gutter and blowing dirt in your face. Eyes full of grit; with my case and the bin liner, I was preoccupied with weather, the fret on the air. I wasn’t stopping; not stop­ping even to thank the boy on the flower stall, not stopping for anything. I was wearing my silver coat. Precisely, if I’m true, I was wearing my silver coat with the plastic bag in the inside pocket, and the shoes I’d got from the Salvation Army the week before. I had my case with me. I always took my case. It was all so ordinary, but these things seem important now: the pumpkins grinning, me carrying the sack, wheeling my case along, not stopping, wearing my silver. As if to alter just one thing would have brought about a different end.

I forgot myself in all that, worrying about the wind and would it bring rain, and would my hair get wet. That was my worry: would my hair get wet. I feared the rain, when it came. I had a routine; getting soaked through was not part of it.

I planned to make a fire when I got back, straight away, to dry things out. Not drying things makes them smell. I do not smell. I do not want things that smell.

When I settled in Hewitt’s, there was plenty to tear, lots of things to burn. He’d left the storeroom piled with boxes full of unclaimed shoes, and row upon row of insoles sliding on each other like dead fish. Under the counter at the front of the shop he kept thick wedges of tissue paper, leather-bound books of accounts. There was the open cabinet near the door, the kind that people have in their houses to show off their china and glass. Hewitt’s cabinet was full of carved wooden feet – lasts in an assortment of sizes. Each had its own brass plate with a name etched on it. They looked like museum pieces now.

Everything was torn and burnt, in the end. The boxes went first, then the counter, then the shelves, and then the cabinet itself. At night I’d hear the lads downstairs, smashing and cracking and breaking the wood into pieces small enough to fit in the hearth. Sometimes one of them would call me down. Robin, he said his name was. He was the only one that didn’t have a dog.

I’m wary of commitment, that’s my trouble, he’d say, which would make the rest of them laugh. He was a nice boy, too thin though, always near the fire, always toasting something. The others would joke about my boyfriend the ghost, but I’d put up with it, and Robin would give them a look, or change the subject. They weren’t to know, were they, and I was thankful for the warmth. How could they understand the twists a life could have? They were so young. And so sure of themselves. They could talk all night; gossip and dreams and wishful thinking – what they’d do if they won the lottery. Robin would always say it would never change him, and one of the others would laugh and say, yeah, sell your granny for a fiver, you would.

Now I have to think about it, I consider another thing: I liked to watch it all being ripped to bits, the lads tearing out the pages from the ledgers, balling the paper up in their hands and throwing it in the grate, or twizzling a long strip in their fingers and using it to light their cigarettes. The account sheets looked like a musical score, with its lines and notations; the owing and debt carefully registered in old brown ink. It was satisfying to see Hewitt’s neat little figures go up the chimney, watch the flames lick around his writing, see him burn in hell. But I never let on. I never let on how much I enjoyed it, not even to myself.

When the ledgers were gone, only the lasts were left. No one liked to destroy something that looked so human, but after a while, they went too. Cold alters your thinking: they were only made of wood. We’d sit and watch them go black and blacker, then burst into flames, like the foot of a mythical god. I kept one back, just for me. It was divine to hold, small and perfectly smooth. It had a name cut into the brass plate. I put it in my case, for safe keeping.

The wind was bringing in winter. The boy on the flower stall complained about it, stamping his feet like a horse in a paddock. He was breathing out smoke, or frozen air. He mentioned the wind. The market boys always went on about it, blowing from the east; straight off the Steppes, they’d say. That’s why I bedded down in the alcove that night; the wind was banging at the front window, coming down the chimney in gulps.

Once Hewitt’s fixtures were burnt, there was nothing left. By then, I was mostly on my own. That was summer just gone; people who hadn’t already moved on were finding other places to go. I don’t know where they went. Robin told me of the refuge on Bethel Street being reopened, and a new hostel down near Riverside. He had a plan, he said, some halfway scheme.

Halfway’s better than no way, he said, Might as well give it a try.

I didn’t have a plan. Not a thought to go anywhere else. No one invited me when they went, and that suited me well. I think I thought I was immune. Precisely, if I’m true, I didn’t think at all; it was my routine, to not think about anything, just to go on. The nights drew in.

I took the sack and my case upstairs, and made my way down to the back of the house. It had been nailed up from the outside with sheet metal, but one of the lads had pulled the board off the window, so you could get into the house from the back, if you had a mind to. I didn’t see the point, when there was a front door to use. They liked it though, this through-way, and it didn’t bother me. I had to climb through the window to get into the yard. There’s a shed in the corner where Hewitt used to store coal. It was all gone, the coal, I knew it would be, but I found some slack and loose pieces, cupped the dust in my hands and went back upstairs. It needed three trips, climbing in and out the window like Buster Keaton. I’m not infirm. I am my grandfather’s age. I left a trail of shimmer all through the hall and up to the top, like a great snail. Making the fire took most of the light out of the day. By the time it was properly going, the sky outside was black.

Apart from my bedding, the room was empty. I spread my coat out in front of the fire. Flames turned the silver to gold. My case with everything in it was at my side. My plastic bag was in my pocket. My hair, of course, was on my head, drying nicely. Everything was normal.

I might have looked out of the window then; I might have seen her. But I was preoccupied with the small things: stay­ing dry, keeping warm, keeping to my routine. A step further back into the day, and I can almost believe that I would have passed the girl on the street. Perhaps I even looked at her. I would have wondered, wouldn’t I, what she was up to here, on The Parade, where no one goes shopping and no children play. I am not unobservant. Perhaps she didn’t come until late. Or she might have been waiting for it to get dark, waiting for her chance.

But I didn’t look back into the day; not this or any other. I never looked back and I never looked on, and if I told myself anything, if a memory came creeping into my head, or if I found myself out of a dream where I was a girl again and my life was flapping out in front of me like a flag, I’d say, That wasn’t your life, now, that belonged to someone else. That was just before.

My plan was just to go on as I was going on, each day the same until the end. I will consider it, now I’m forced: there was no plan. I kept out of the way. I was nothing much.

She took it all. I can picture her watching my face, kneeling down at my side. Her fingers were cold. She must have been looking for jewellery; why else put her hands on me? She could have just lifted my case, and left. She didn’t have to touch me. The girl put her fingers on me, the girl took everything I own. Now there’s some accounting to do. Her hair was red as rust: Telltale. I used to have red hair, when I was a girl.

part one: before


I’ve got to go and live with my grandfather. I don’t know him, and my father won’t be coming with me, but there’s nothing to be done. It’s been decided.

Needs must, Pats, my father says. It’s a mystery to me. He doesn’t explain the words, and I’m not allowed to question. I’m going to live with an old man that I don’t know and my father can’t abide. He used to call him That Old Devil, but now that needs must, my father doesn’t call him anything at all. I’ve never met the devil, but I’ve seen his face.

Under the stairs in the pantry there was a carton which I wasn’t allowed to touch, sitting alongside other things that weren’t touchable, like the Vim and my father’s shoe polish. The carton had got lye inside, which is poison. There was a picture of the devil on the outside, to prove it. He had a red face, red hair, pointed teeth, and a tail going up in a loop, sharp as a serving fork. He didn’t look at all like my grandfather. My mother kept a photograph of him in a silver frame on the table next to her bottle of Wincarnis. I wasn’t allowed to touch that either. The picture was in black and white. When my mother did her hair, or sometimes when she slept, I would sit on the stool by her bed and stare at him, and think about the devil inside. I reasoned that his face could be red in real life, and he wasn’t smiling, so he could easily have pointed teeth. In the photograph, he looked uncomfortable. That would be the tail, doing that: he’d be sitting on it. In his little round eyeglasses, I could see someone else standing a long way off. Two someone elses, one in each eye, holding a bright thing in the air above their heads. I imagined this was a cross of fire to ward off my grandfather, sitting there having his photograph taken. I wanted to compare him with the devil on the box of lye, put the pictures side by side, see if they made a pair, but I couldn’t get them together in the same room if they were not to be touched. I tried to memorize them instead: the devil was easy, his wide grin and his hair so red; but my grandfather – he just looked like any old man, any plain old man in the world. And then one day I saw for myself how not like the devil he was.

We lived near the lanes, in Bath House Yard. We’d always been there, so I knew all the faces round about: next door to us was a tiny woman called Mrs Moon, with no husband and four children all alike; and in the corner lived two brothers with a bulldog that bit your legs when you ran past. Across the yard was the knife-grinder. He did the rounds on his bike. When he came home, he’d leave it in the yard outside his window. There were cloths tied to the back, and a basket full of tools on the front. The dog never messed with him. He preferred the butcher, who lived in the rooms on top of us. I didn’t know the butcher’s name, and hardly saw him in the daytime, but I heard him, moving above my head in the morning, singing when he came home at night. Sometimes I looked out of my window to watch him staggering up the steps; he’d be hanging on to the railing like a man at sea, with the bulldog snipping at his boots, waiting for him to slip. It was easy to slip on the steps; the whole yard-end was leaning one way, as if any minute it would run off through the gutter and down into the city. My father said it was because of the quarrying underneath. We lived on lime, he said. My mother said it was the ghosts that made things tilt. If anything hap­pened in our house, she blamed it on the ghosts.

They made everything slant. Our front door turned out onto a path of cobbles made of flint. They looked like pigs’ knuckles laid out flat. Except they didn’t stay flat, they sloped, and when it rained, the water came in under the door. My father put up a low wall around our door to stop the water. Everyone in the yard admired it, but no one wanted one of their own.

My grandfather came to see us just after I’d started at school. According to my father, it was because I didn’t go often enough. In truth, I hardly went at all. My father came to collect me at the end of the first week, and found me sitting at the back of the room at a little table, just me on my own. While all the rest of the children were doing the alphabet, I was sticking felt animals on a board.

Call that learning? he asked the teacher, who could only say that the idea of learning was beyond some of us and it was nothing to be ashamed of.

She’ll not be shoved in a corner, my father said, To be forgotten.

After that, I didn’t go any more.

My grandfather paid a visit to Talk Some Sense into us. My father wasn’t worried, he said the Moon children never got any bother, did they, and anyway, he wanted me at home. It wasn’t as if I missed going to school. I liked to play in the yard. I’d join in Ring-a-Roses with Josie and Pip Moon, but if the bulldog was out and about, I’d sit on the butcher’s steps with my legs tucked underneath me. The day it all changed, I was doing just that.

A grey man came and stood at the wall. He had a hat in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. From where I was sitting, I could see the bald bit on the top of his head. He didn’t knock on the door, and he didn’t say anything, he just looked up at me. He reminded me of someone I knew.

You must be Lillian, he said, after a bit. He sounded friendly, but I couldn’t answer back. My father has told me I must not speak to strangers, and I wasn’t sure whether he counted. So I just looked at him. After a minute, he tried again.

You are Lillian, aren’t you?

It’s a trick question, I thought. Then I thought, Maybe I am a Lillian? And ran down to ask my father. I’m always getting stuck with my name, but Lillian at that moment sounded important, and the way he said it, the grey-faced man, made it more familiar than my other name, which my father always calls me by. It’s Patsy, my other name. My father thought it was important too. When I told him what the man said, he ran like a rat from the bedroom where my mother was kept, straight through the living room, jumping the wall out the front. I’d never seen him run like that, pushing me aside as if he was fleeing the devil, not rushing to greet him. When I followed, he shouted.

You stay there! Don’t move!

I stayed right where he pointed, on the doorstep, and watched as the two of them had words. The piece of paper was exchanged. My father turned without looking back and grabbed me by the hand. He had a fierce grip. He was squeezing my fingers in one hand and the piece of paper in the other. He slammed the door on the man, unfurled the paper in front of the fire and burnt it straight away.

Who was that man? I asked, watching the paper curling blue.

That was your grandad,

was all he said. Then he went in to my mother.

It was the first time I’d seen my grandfather in colour. He did look like the photograph. I wanted to ask him why he called me by the wrong name and why my father thinks he is the devil.

After a bit, I went into my mother’s room. She was lying on her side, with my father sitting on the stool next to the bed. They stopped talking and looked at me. The shutters were closed. I went to the window and opened them a crack to see out. The man who was my grandfather was still there, waiting, his hands hanging open at his sides. I thought he might wave, but if he saw me he didn’t show it. He was staring straight at the door, eyeing it just like the bulldog eyes me. I wanted to compare him to his picture. I glanced over to where my mother kept it, but the frame had been turned face down on the table.

Come away from there, Pats, said my father. But he’s still there!

Come away now, he said.

My mother gave a slow blink. She didn’t talk much, but she didn’t need to; her blinking said it all. It said she wasn’t going to get up and let him in, and I really shouldn’t ask questions at a time like this, or stand near the window like that, for everyone in the yard to see our business.

Why did he call me Lillian? I asked. No one spoke. I asked again.

My mother’s eyes were shut now. My father took a breath, I’ll tell you in a bit. Go and put the kettle on for your mam.

I did as I was told. But I knew if I looked out of the window I would see the man again, standing still and waiting like a dog.

Soon after that, the photograph of my grandfather disappeared entirely, and the frame was put on the sideboard with the glass cracked and nothing behind it but white. And then one morning, the frame was gone too. It was the time of the ghosts. It was the time, my father decided, that I should learn history.

Copyright ” 2004 by Trezza Azzopardi. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reading Group Guide


1. How would you describe the voice of the narrator? Does Azzopardi seem to integrate the three or more faces of Winnie with the actual style of writing?

2. How does wartime serve as a symbolic background for much of the novel? Where do the connections become explicit? Dislocation and deprivation pervade the book. How else is war explored as a metaphor? What is the “war” that affects the narrator the most in her early childhood? How is Mr. Stadnik an emblem for the war?

3. Thieving is a recurrent act in Remember Me. The narrator steals, and she is stolen from. What are these acts, and what are the consequences? How do they gain in importance as the book unfolds?

4. Would you consider isolation a central theme of the novel? What things contribute to the characters being isolated? (Consider being an “incomer” as well as those who are old or poor or both.

) Are the results of isolation all negative? Can being apart sometimes lead to an understanding of others? Who in the book shows empathy? When people are sympathetic to the narrator, are their motives always mixed? Give examples.

5. Winnie goes through cycles of adventures. Can it be said that each new character she meets tests her knowledge? Of truth? Love? As we move forward and backward in time, we also move in and out of objective reality. Is this gravitating to be taken only as the distortion of a disturbed person? Or could it be a reflection of many people’s subjective lives?

6. Does the narrator’s obsession with the past render her powerless? Is it another kind of prison for her? Are there other ways to look at her absorbing interests? Is it perhaps the only way she can impose some order on her confusion? What in particular lures her back to the past? Is she also caught in the present at times?

7. The narrator’s observations are shot through with poetry: odd, startling, and true images and analogies. As constrained as she is in some ways, she is also free of preconceptions, of truths that would put blinders on her. When do you see this liberation of language in the book?

8. The narrator has at times her own sense of honor. How, and when? She often has a gimlet eye for pretense and bad behavior. When? And when does she capitulate, almost joyfully, to the wickedness others accuse her of? What are the consequences?

9. What do you think is suggested by the title? At the end of Chapter 28, we get one clue: “Because I have no visitors, I tend the roses. No one remembers me” (p. 279). Winnie’s perambulations, name changes, disguises, and the passage of time make it hard for the narrator to be remembered. Yet, at times she is definitely remembered, sometimes to her peril. Give examples.

10. How is deception used in plot and character development? Recall the theater tricks of the Foys. How much does Winnie believe in what she does with her “gift”? Later she says, ” I can lie to myself as easily as lying to others; as easily as they can lie to me. Denial trails me like a dog” (p. 287). Can you cite examples? We remember that her price of freedom from Bethel Street after twenty-four years was to claim rehabilitation–that she would never steal even a daisy–as opposed to Noreen who refused to capitulate to the Sisters. Hewitt says at one point, “Not everything is as it seems in this world, Winifred” (p. 263). Discuss times in the book when there are discrepancies between appearance and reality.

11. “What’s in a name?” the narrator asks (p. 135). Patricia, Lillian, Winifred, Beauty, Princess–trace the sequences and confusions of these names and how they affect the narrator. Look also at times she is dehumanized, treated as less than human. In the dress shop, ‘debs was spraying something in the air from a can, spraying behind me as I left, as if there was a trail to cover, as if I were a fly, a wasp.” (pg. 150). What are other examples of her being dehumanized?

12. Through more than a year, the narrator and Joseph dream of running away to the sea. What other characters dream of escape? Do any achieve it?

13. Is the narrator’s conjured reality often more real than what is palpably around her? Perhaps her attention to detail is one way to keep chaos at bay. “I lie in bed at night, and between the hooting bird and the keening wind, I think about the countryside being quiet. It’s not true. Noise fills my sleep; Billy’s chain becomes the knocking bones of skeletons as they rise from the fen; the rain is a river of silver coins; the barking is the scarecrow standing in the far field, knocking his pipe out against the fence. His head is bent to one side and his hair glows luminous against the sky. He wears my grandfather’s face” (p. 121). In what other ways does she introduce us to new ways of seeing?

14. In some ways this is a timeless tale, or time is refracted through the narrator’s varying prisms. Occasionally, though, the story is tied down momentarily to events in the outside world. What are some of these markers?

15. Azzopardi uses recurrent images as a device of the novel. Think of ghosts and bones. Mirrors are tied up with identity issues and confusion of names. Think about how the images spin and shift. For instance, the mirror image of the girl in the lake stared back, a kind of “future ghost” (p. 166). Think of prison images, literal and figurative. Birds are important throughout–Joseph, the swooping bird that causes Winnie to faint as she sustains a vision of Joseph. How are these and other images developed in accretions of meaning?

16. The loss endured by the narrator, starting with her loss of certain normal faculties, is painful and extraordinary. Cite the losses she suffers, all those people in her life. Remember, even Gloria, Mr. Stadnik’s gift. How are these losses tied to her crises of identity?

17. What do we learn about mental illness and how it was dealt with in this time? At the end of her life, even the narrator knows that other, more humane measures might have been taken in her behalf, such as therapy or medication. Do we wonder how much of the world still suffers the same indignities she did?

18. How do you interpret the end? Do you see it as almost a scene from Revelation? Does it, as an “end,” represent the end of hope? Or the beginning? “They say hope is the worst of all evils. . . Never give up hope, Princess,” once said Mr. Stadnik (p. 243). The narrator herself once said, “Hope is an affliction” (p. 256). Does she have a startling new voice at the conclusion?


The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy; Have the Men Had Enough? by Margaret Forster; Molloy by Samuel Beckett; Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor; Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler; Loving Che by Ana Men”ndez; Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos