Wednesday 2 November 2011

Book Review: Still Alice

According to the publisher (
Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease.

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Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease (EOD). Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...

I agree with all of this, however, I'm two-thirds of the way through and I find it contrived, somehow. As if the author, Lisa Genova, holds a Ph.D in neuroscience. Oh, she does!
Or the author is trying to pack in all of the information she knows about Alzheimer's Disease (AD) into a novel. Well, she is!

There is a bit of a mystery to this novel, which would be a terrible spoiler, and I won't write about that. It is an excellent trick to making this a novel, rather than a documentary. But there are parts of the professor that comes out in the character, and the information herin.

It is full of excellent information. Having cared for my father who had dementia, and volunteered in several long-term care (LTC) centres with a wide number of dementia sufferers, I find the behavioural characteristics true. I also find it heartbreaking to read, for we all know that there is only a gradual decline with this disorder. You read each new symptom, as she descends into her foggy mind, and the angst is palpable. You recognize it, as you've seen this in your family or clients. It breaks your heart.

I would find it hard to read this novel if I had a family member who had AD. This depicts EOD and it is even more difficult to see a life diminished by the disorder chapter by chapter. I would find it hard to read if I had lost a family member to AD. In fact I find it hard to read. You know that the gradual decline will continue. You know that the brain loses executive function (the ability to think, use abstract concepts, etc.) long before the autonomic function (breathing, normal bodily functions) ceases. This is why these clients live so long.

Don't get me wrong, it is well-written, beautifully set, realistic, engaging. It rings true for me, with my professional and volunteer caregiving experiences, but I still find it emotionally difficult to read. You know how it will end. I've seen AD patients in LTC. They can have fun. Most are treated well by caregivers, but the emotional toll of family is immense.

Facts about STILL ALICE:

  • debuted at #5 on the New York Times Bestseller list
  • spent 40 weeks on that list
  • won the 2008 Bronte Prize and the 2011 Bexley Book of the Year
  • nominated for the 2010 Indies Choice Debut Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association
  • #6 Top Book Group Favorite of 2009 by Reading Group Choices
  • 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
  • 2009 Indie Next pick
  • 2009 Borders Book Club Pick
  • 2009 Target Book Club pick
  • over a million copies in print
  • translated into 25 languages.

Lisa Genova is a young, well-educated, professional woman. She is current in social-based media, and knows, or has great advice, on marketing. Check her out on Facebook!
Lisa Genova

More about Lisa Genova:
Lisa Genova graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. She is the author of the New York TimesBestselling novels Still Alice and Left Neglectedread more.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds a lot like TURN OF MIND by Alice LaPlante which manages to insert a mystery into the mix.

Latane Barton said...

Even though Still Alice may be a compelling read, I don't think I will add it to my reading list. I find it hard to read about the struggles of Alz. That doesn't include my blog friend for I feel a real connection to them.

Hope your day and week are going well.

Olga said...

I read this book a while ago. My own mother suffered from dementia and it was a heart breaking journey for the family. I found the book very comforting, though...maybe because there was distance since my mother passed away in 2005 at the age of 93.

Barrie said...

I think I will read this. I know it'll be tough and sad. But I'm curious, now, about the mystery. Also, it's time to read something a little heavy. Thanks for joining in, Jenn!

Judy said...

I read a chapter of this book to a friend who is almost 103, and thought it very well done, but I could not keep going with it, because of the emotional trauma, and the only person I have known with AD was my godmother, many years ago, before it was called AD...