Wednesday 4 January 2012

Book Review: Left Neglected

By Lisa Genova
I must admit, I wasn't prepared for too much. I reviewed Genova's previous book, Still Alice, and I wasn't thrilled with it. I learned a lot, but wasn't happy with the novel. Still Alice was much too didactic, with the author using the novel to  explain Early Onset Alzheimer Disease, and the neuroscience of brain issues to her readers. I wondered if this book, Left Neglected, based on the main character's brain injury, and her fight for recovery, might have the same feeling: university professor lecturing to readers. (Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard!)

Fortunately, this wasn't true for this novel. This novel is much more compelling. Yes, people with brain injuries often work hard to overcome their disabilities, and this can be a positive life lesson. There is much their families must learn. With Alzheimer's we know the ending, as plaque build up slowly shuts down executive functioning, confounds abstract thinking skills, and then claims the normal character of the person we knew. If you would like to read about this, you need only visit a couple of blogs: Our Journey Through Alzheimer's, for example. Still Alice broke one's heart, in this respect.

This novel is much better. Genova has learned more about using the novel to educate, while keeping the form of setting, character development, and plot. This novel has hope, while we learn about the nuances of recovering from or adapting to a brain injury. That can doom a reader who isn't engaged, or has any investment in the outcome.

In my situation, I work and volunteer with a number of people who have suffered strokes, have limited income, and many have complicated disabilities. For anyone who works with such clients, this novel will help with an understanding of the frustration of dealing with diminished capacity from the point of view of client/patient. In some cases, hopes change, as permanent damage is witnessed, but this is all part of the journey.

Once the author established some humanity in the character, I began to like her and hope for her! The first few chapters I found rather tedious, having lived the life of a working mom, but it is essential to developing the novel's framework. I didn't have much empathy for the character, let alone sympathy, until a few chapters in. On the other hand, I realized that I didn't exactly share the perspective of this character: a working mom of three children, with a nanny, two-parent family, huge mortgage, living in an affluent suburb of Boston. It is hard to identify with her in many respects. That said, she does have the humanity of an Oprah guest: she is sharing her lessons with us, as we working mothers fight to be all we can be.
It is a good read. I recommend it to any and all.

From another reviewer:

Left Neglected is artfully told, managing to hold the reader in the story while exploring the curious condition of Left Neglect, also known as Hemispatial Neglect.

Read an excerpt.

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Krista said...

I really enjoyed this one too! Haven't read Still Alice yet though.

Linda McLaughlin said...

This sounds interesting and it's good that it is hopeful. I can see how a novel about Alzheimer's would be the opposite. Glad you liked this novel better than her first. Thanks for dropping by my blog the other day. Happy New Year!

Kay L. Davies said...

Okay, I've been reading for half an hour and am hooked. I think I'm glad I didn't read the first one.
Don't you think both titles are great, though, Jenn? I wonder if the author or the editor made up the titles?

EG CameraGirl said...

Another book to add to my Must Read list. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Sounds interesting, especially from your informed perspective.

Barrie said...

So glad you enjoyed this novel. For me, it is much easier to get sucked in when I'm rooting for the character(s). Happy New Year, Jenn!

Sarahlynn said...

I remember your review of STILL ALICE and while both books intrigue me, I am glad you found this novel to be better. It tempts me, as I have a sister who had a brain tumor and watching her recovery opened my eyes to a lot I never considered with TBI.

(I Googled my way over here, but think the link from Barrie's blog might be broken? I mentioned it in the comments over there, too.)

Barrie said...

The link is fixed. Thanks for the heads up Jenn and Sarahlynn. :)