I’d heard about Still Alice by Lisa Genova several times over the last couple of months, but it wasn’t until it appeared on the “New Arrivals” shelf at my local library that I decided to check it out.
Still Alice is a novel about a woman, a Harvard psychology professor, who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book is written in the third person from Alice’s point of view and the reader is close enough to Alice to feel what it is like to lose your memory. While I can’t say I’ve experienced memory problems or even have much first hand experience with Alzheimer’s disease, I think Genova has done a great job of capturing the confusion and lose one must experience when descending into dementia. The disease is devastating. At the beginning, Alice is forgetful, making silly mistakes like leaving her BlackBerry at a restaurant. But then she gets lost just a few blocks from home, a neighbourhood she has lived in for over 20 years. Slowly, she becomes more and more forgetful to the point where she doesn’t always recognize her children. Alice’s Alzheimer’s disease is also an enormous challenge to her grown children and husband, who struggle with the challenge of moving forward with their own lives and looking after Alice.
The book is written in a style that is very straight forward and not particularly literary. The author has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard and in places I thought the book delved deeper in the science of Alzheimer’s instead of going deeper into the feelings of the characters. In particular, I wanted to know more about how Alice felt about her diagnosis. In the scene where she gets her diagnosis, she has an almost out-of-body experience while listening to the doctor. Later the author tells us she gets angry at times, but I wanted to see Alice be angry, be in denial, feel grief about losing everything – her career, her relationship with her husband, the memories of kids and her family’s future without her.
Still, this is a really good book and a definite must read – if only to learn more about this horrible, incurable disease.