Today’s review was a bit of a tough one. I’ve been hearing a lot about Still Alice by Lisa Genova and the subsequent film adaption starring Julianne Moore. The book examines the mind of a 50 year old linguistics professor who develops Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease and how that affects her life and relationships. This was something I’d been thinking a lot about recently for two reasons. Firstly my beloved grandfather passed away a little over a year ago from Alzheimer’s related disorders. He spent the last few years of his life unable to communicate or look after himself, afraid of something he couldn’t articulate but always ready with a smile to greet you. Seeing a loved one deteriorate and lose themselves is one of the most heart breaking things one can experience in life. His passing has left us all distraught but also relieved that he is now at peace.
The second reason is the somewhat better publicized passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors. At the age of 59 he announced that he had been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s; a diagnosis he called “his embuggerance”. With the help of his family and a devoted personal assistant he spent a lot of time promoting awareness of the illness and challenging perceptions around euthanasia. Despite his discussion of assisted suicide Sir Terry passed away naturally in 2015.
Back to the book, however. Alice is an eminent linguistics professor at Harvard university. She has three grown up children and lives with her husband, who is also an academic. We get to grips with her routine; the travelling to conferences, the lecturers, the interactions with her family and her PhD student and we are also with her when she starts having slight blips in her memory. She puts it down to a combination of age and the onset of menopause until she gets completely lost in a place she’s been to every day for years. A series of diagnostic tests confirm that she has a genetic form of Alzheimer’s and from then on we can only watch as she and her family come to terms with her mental and physical deterioration.
As we are inhabiting Alice’s head we have to take her word for what she remembers or what is happening around her. She’s such a confident narrator that at times I found myself flipping back to check whether she had actually remembered something incorrectly or whether someone else was mistaken. Sometimes it took me a while to work out what was wrong in a scenario because I was so caught up in Alice’s thoughts. This is the first book in a very long time that brought me to tears and it’s still quite difficult to think about the book without feeling somewhat melancholy. It’s not the kind of novel I read often but there’s no denying it packs a powerful punch.
1 in 9 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease after the age of 65. This is an illness that is likely to affect you or someone close to you and it’s a horrible horrible thing. Please consider donating towards Alzheimer’s research.
Alzheimer’s Research UK
Alzheimer’s Association USA