Our book club book for January was Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and was chosen by Jo.
Alice Howland is a fifty year-old professor of psychology at Harvard University. She is married to a successful biologist with whom she has three grown children. Alice’s life is hectic – full of work, travel, family commitments and running. Alice has also been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. Early in the novel we see Alice becoming forgetful which she puts down to over work until one day, she becomes completely disorientated while running her usual route. Alice is devastated but quick to accept her diagnosis, although her husband, John, is not so accepting. Alice takes part in a clinical trial for a new drug, Amylix, and it was interesting to read how these trials work. Much of the novel centres around Alice’s desire to maintain herself and still be ‘Alice’, while conscious of the fact that she is losing her grip on her memory…
“More and more, she was experiencing a growing distance from her self-awareness. Her sense of Alice – what she knew and understood, what she liked and disliked, how she felt and perceived – was … like a soap bubble…”
I was surprised by how quickly this disease took hold of Alice. The entire story spans two years and by the end Alice can no longer remember her own children. This book is a compelling, heart-wrenching and devastating portrayal of life on the inside of Alzheimer’s. I found myself crying over it and Alice’s fate quite a bit – something I don’t usually do when reading. Genova has a PH.D in neuroscience from Harvard which allowed her access to many experts in the field. In the wrong hands, this book could have felt like a science text book, but Genova has done an amazing job in her debut novel, to give it a soul. About a third of the way through the book, Alice goes to visit an Alzheimer’s Special Care Unit, and reminisces about a butterfly necklace her mother once gave her. She remembers being six or seven at the time and being devastated to learn that butterflies only live for a couple of days. Her mother comforts her by saying
“Just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic”.
This is such a poignant quote given Alice’s struggles.
I’m so glad Jo chose this book and I will definitely be searching out more of Lisa’s books in the future.
My rating: 8.5/10
Book club rating: 8.25/10