Friday, 5 February 2016

Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life--and her relationship with her family and the world--forever.

At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Judith Guest's Ordinary People.

My Review:
Alice is a Harvard Professor who has started to forget things like family recipes, appointments and has trouble delivering her speeches. It is when she has a panic episode when she can't remember how to get home that she seeks medical help, fearing a brain tumour. After several appointments she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers, a diagnosis that her husband cannot accept, and a disease that she may have passed onto her children. Now Alice faces a future of losing the job she loves and gradually forgetting everything and everyone around her.

This is a disease that has always struck fear into me and I found the decline in Alice through the book scary. I'd always assumed that early onset meant there was a better chance of slowing the disease symptoms and getting more time with your family but that does not happen to Alice. Her decline is swift, harsh and terrible for everyone around her. The daughter that she never really understood, Lydia, rallies round to help her mother and moves across the country to be with her, but the attitude of her husband infuriates me. He treats her more like an embarrassment that has to be endured, he makes every decision for her even before she becomes incapable and puts his own interests ahead of hers. I really didn't like him. Yes, this illness causes terrible strain on the family but his three kids show patience and understanding to their mother and constantly argue with their father for his selfishness.

I liked the way Alice sought out other sufferers to try to start a support group where they could share their fears and talk about their shared symptoms. I'd have liked to have seen more of these new friends and their meetings and to hear more about what all of them are suffering together. I liked seeing the chance in her relationship with Lydia. I can understand Lydia's frustration at being nagged about going to college to get a degree when she wants to be an actress, and ironically, it is her acting and her plays that help to give Alice comfort as she declines. The decision faced by her children about whether or not to take the genetic testing and see if they were condemned to the same fate could have been covered more as it is something that scared the whole famile. Anna feels compelled to get tested as she has started fertility treatment, and Tom decides to get tested too. Lydia decides that she doesn't want to know.

These are my niggles for the book. Firstly, each time we go to an appointment with Alice's doctor, we have to sit through him asking the same questions each time. I know this is done to show how hard it is each time for Alice as it becomes clear how much she has declined since the last time but it did get a bit boring after a while. In the early parts of the book, we got a lot of information about what Alice was teaching and her theories, all of which went way over my head. Bearing in mind that most people reading this book are not Harvard students of psychology or psycholinguistics, I felt that this wasn't adding anything to the story and could have been missed out.

The book was well written and I think it probably gives an accurate picture of what a patient and their family go through with this terrible illness. However the book is quite slow in places and as I mentioned previously, quite repetitive in places. This is why I am giving it three stars. It is a decent read and I'm now very keen to see the film.
star rating photo: Three Star Rating 3stars.png

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