Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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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 University and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disorientated and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life – and her relationship with her family and he word – 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 Ordinary People.

I added this book to my birthday wishlist after seeing the trailer for the film on YouTube. I’m so glad I did because Still Alice is an amazing read.

Alice Howland is a high-flying woman. With a renowned position at Harvard University she is respected by many. Not long after the start of the novel, you begin to see Alice losing hold of some of her memories. She has just turned fifty, so at first she puts her memory loss down to the menopause. However, after a particularly frightening experience where she couldn’t remember her way home on a route she runs regularly, she decides to visit her doctor.

Two months later, after various tests, her doctor gives her a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease (EAOD). At first, Alice struggles to comprehend what this means for her and doesn’t know how she will tell her family. When she finally confesses to her husband he is in denial. A scientist himself, he refuses to believe the diagnosis without further tests.

A genetic test reveals that Alice has a mutated gene which is strongly associated with EOAD. This news brings terrible guilt – what if she has passed the faulty gene onto one of her children. Two of children decide to be tested (I won’t spoil the outcome for you).

The novel takes place over the course of two years during which time you see a rapid deterioration in Alice’s memory. The cruel irony of a professor of language forgetting everyday words really makes you feel for Alice. Although the book is written in the third person I still felt it gave a good insight into how Alice was feeling and the way her mind was changing. Lisa Genova portrayed Alice’s increasing confusion and misinterpretation of situations well. Using the third person also helped show how the progression of the disease was affecting the people closest to her. I think Alice’s youngest daughter, Lydia, deals with her mother’s illness the best. She manages to maintain her enthusiastic approach to life even as her mother begins to forget who her daughter is.

I thought Still Alice was very well written. I really cared about Alice and empathised with her family. It is a situation that I hope I never have to go through with any of my family, but with Alzheimer’s becoming an increasingly common disease as people live for longer it is becoming inevitable that most people will be affected by it at some point in their lives. I hope that in the future better drugs will be available to allow people like Alice to hold onto the memories that are such a big part of our lives.

5/5

My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment.

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