March 9, 2015 by Bernadette ~ The Bumbling Bookworm
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster AU, January 2015 (originally published 2007)
Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Source: Courtesy of the Publisher
Rating: 5 stars!
Other books from author: Left Neglected, Love Anthony, Inside the O’Briens (coming in 2015)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
In Lisa Genova’s extraordinary New York Times bestselling novel, an accomplished professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease learns that her worth is comprised of more than her ability to remember. Now a major motion picture from Sony Pictures Classics starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart!
Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life – and her relationship with her family and the world – for ever.
At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People.
What I Thought…
I was very curious to read this, I’d heard great things about the book itself and the Oscar buzz surrounding the film only served to pique my interest. Add to that Julianne Moore’s Oscar winning performance, and I was intrigued to say the least. Well, they say curiosity killed the cat, and it just about killed me with this book.
When we first begin to read Still Alice, the titular character, Alice, is going through some changes in her life. She’s a Harvard University professor, her kids are all grown and have flown the coop, and she’s becoming increasingly forgetful. For example, she went for a run and found herself in Harvard Square, a place she’d been to countless times before and only a short distance from her home, but she was lost. She had no idea where she was or how to get home. Alice was eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and so began her descent into the horror that is that disease.
Still Alice had a profound affect on me, and I can’t remember the last time I sobbed while reading a book for so long. I was literally in tears for the last 100 pages, at least, seeing what was happening to Alice. For those of you who don’t know, Alzheimer’s disease is a disease that damages your brain, causing impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. You basically forget who you are, who your friends and family are, what you’ve done shortly after you’ve done it, and how to take care of yourself. It’s a form of dementia and it does not discriminate. It usually presents in the elderly, but there’s also an early-onset form that affects people younger than 65, usually in their 40s and 50s. For me, it’s my worst nightmare.
I don’t know why but I’ve always been afraid of this disease – I don’t have personal experience with it in my family, but it’s still terrifying to me. I’m a person with a fantastic memory, it’s not eidetic or anything but it’s pretty darn good, and to lose that and who I am would be devastating to me. Of course, the tragedy is that it’s the families who suffer most, having to watch their loved ones succumb to this awful disease. Genova portrayed both sides of the coin brilliantly in Still Alice.
On the one hand, you’ve got Alice who’s brilliant yet increasingly fading away from within. She can no longer teach, then she can no longer remember that she taught, and soon after that she can no longer remember who she is or who her family are. This was difficult to read, but excellently written. As the novel progressed, the writing style continued to change along with the changes in Alice, becoming more abstract and disconnected from the reality at hand. This mirrored Alice’s decline and really served to ram home what was happening. It was like being in Alice’s mind, and it was completely heartbreaking.
Watching the impact of the disease on Alice’s loved ones was equally distressing. For Alice’s husband John, he took the ‘bury your head in the sand’ approach. On the one hand, I kind of understood. He was losing his brilliant wife before his eyes, and it was also going to impact on his own career as a Harvard professor and beyond. On the other hand, he was incredibly selfish and at times delusional at a time when his wife needed him. Instead, it was Alice’s children Lydia, Tom and Anna who pull through to care for their mother, despite their struggles to comprehend what was happening to their mother. They had a greater understanding of what she needed than the scholarly John could ever see. Especially Lydia; perhaps it’s because she’s an actor that she could think outside the box, but she had a better understanding of what her mother needed than anybody.
Well, if you’re looking for a book to turn you into a blubbering mess, this is the book for you! Still Alice moved me, yet terrified me at the same time. A very challenging book to read, but well worth the pain. I recommend it to all, just don’t forget the tissues.
What did you think of this book? Did you enjoy it?