Friday, May 11, 2012

Book review: Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Genova's debut revolves around Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children. One day, Alice sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. It's a route she has taken for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Is her forgetfulness the result of menopausal symptoms? A ministroke? A neurological cancer? After a few doctors' appointments and medical tests, Alice has her diagnosis, and it's a shocker -- she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

What follows is the story of Alice's slow but inevitable loss of memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. To Genova's great credit, readers learn of the progression of Alice's disease through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so they feel what she feels -- a slowly building terror.


This book was a very personal, close-to-home read for me. I don't know anyone with Alzheimer's, but my grandmother does have dementia, which affects you in a lot of similar ways, and my mom is a social worker in the division of the elderly and disabled, which encompasses people with Alzheimer's. So I was thinking of my grandmother and mom often as I listened to this one.

My dislikes were few:
1. This one starts out really slowly. It takes a few chapters for us to get to new information--the first few chapters all deal with her noticing something is wrong and then her diagnosis. I think the beginning might be intriguing if they didn't give away that she has Alzheimer's on the back of the book.

2. In the beginning it focuses a lot on Alice's profession. This didn't really bother me, and it was important later, but it does contribute to the slow start, I think.

Likes:
1. What initially intrigued me about this book is that it's told from Alice's perspective. And Genova used her perspective really well. Because of the nature of Alzheimer's, sometimes Alice didn't know how far her disease had progressed until someone told her. And because it was from her point of view, we, as readers, sometimes don't know until she's told. Other times, she'll do something and we're conscious of it and then she'll forget, but because we, as readers, don't have Alzheimer's, we remember and can see the progression even though she can't. For example, she starts repeating herself, asking the same questions over and over within just a few minutes or half an hour. Alice doesn't realize she's doing it, but we do. It's a really captivating perspective and makes you feel like you're going through everything too.

2. There's a whole lot I never knew about Alzheimer's that I learned from this book. Like that they have delusions of things that haven't actually happened or aren't real. That a lot of times they don't recognize themselves in the mirror. My mom confirmed that one--said she's heard of social workers entering a room and hearing the elderly client talking. When they ask who they're talking to, the elderly person will point to the mirror and say "her." Because they don't realize they're old; because that couldn't possibly be their reflection--that woman has wrinkles and white hair.

I had thought Alzheimer's was a familiar disease to me, but this showed me I know very little about it.

3. Like I said, there were a lot of things that reminded me of my grandma. Like my grandma once didn't recognize a pancake--had no idea what it was, poked it, and ended up asking us. So I thought it was very easy to relate to and realistic.

4. Alice thinks about suicide a lot. And while it's easy to say suicide is never the answer, Genova does a really great job of helping her audience through Alice's thought process and helping us see why she would consider that end.


All in all, I thought "Still Alice" was captivating and beautiful. Sometimes I was so into it that once I was at work I feared some of the mishaps that were happening to Alice would happen to me--that I would lose my words or end up putting my cell phone in the freezer or something. I know this one's going to stick with me a long time.

Have any of you read "Still Alice"? Or do any of you have someone close to you experiencing Alzheimer's or dimentia? I'd love to hear about your experience.

6 comments:

Alyx said...

Hmmm. This sounds interesting. Not sure if it's the type of book I would read, but interesting either way.
My husband's grandmother has alzheimer's, and when we went to visit last year, I was shocked at the amount of memory loss she's had. She can't dress herself, feed herself, talk, or do much at all. It's really sad.

Victoria said...

it sounds like an intense and poweful read!

happy friday!

Shoshanah said...

This sounds like a really interesting read. I'm lucky enough not to have anyone in my family with alzheimers and hopefully it stays that way.

Katrin said...

Interesting! I will add it to my list! Thank you!

Heather said...

This sounds like a sad read. We do have Alzheimer's in our family and it's a terrible disease.

Sarah E. said...

This is my book club book this month and I'm really hoping to get through my current book so I can start it. I am really interested to read it because my great grandma had Alzheimer's and it pretty much broke my heart to see her. She struggled to remember things - she though I was my mom, etc. It was so sad.

A few of the book clubbees finished and their reaction was "Wow. Just wow." - they all said it was a really powerful story.

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