Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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I admit I was reluctant to start reading this - I had seen it in every chart list and on every book stand since it was published and then again once the new film staring Julianne Moore was released but the topic of Alzheimer's held me back. It sounded like it could be sad, over sentimental, depressing and bleak. My grandfather suffered cruelly from this illness and my mum is paranoid she'll suffer similarly- did I really want to put myself through this? Then last week it was once again parading itself in front of me in the Libraries Quick Choice stand. Fate, I thought, wants me to read this book.

It is a truly captivating read. I got caught up in the story straight away and read through the first quarter of the book in one sitting without even noticing. The main character, Alice Howland, is not old, not poor, not stupid, not weak, not helpless. She is an intelligent mother aged 50, sensible and pragmatic. I liked that the book took a strong character who went against the stereotype of an Alzheimer's patient. Alice is likeable and you are immediately drawn to her. The novel is told in third person from her point of view which is well done with memory lapses, repetition and Alice's loss of herself cleverly woven into the narrative so the reader at times experiences the nature of the illness. It also means that some objectivity is retained as Alice is not always aware of the disease and it's effects which prevents the novel from becoming unnecessarily sentimental. It also shows the disease to be more complex than just forgetting the present. Alice's loss of herself, her sense of time, her sense of what she likes or dislikes, her personal hygiene, her mistakes are told with frankness and her inability to understand fully or understand how to respond to her challenging situation keep the novel grounded, poignant and brave. It is a sad story but it is sensitive and plain speaking. I think the ending held hope and presented Alice had reached some sense of contentment, happiness and renewed relationships with her family.
The chapter headings follow the months of the year which is a great technique to keep the story moving showing the decline of Alice through snippets which suggest more to the reader than a more  indulged wallowing approach. I suppose it also creates a sense of distance which almost mimics Alice's own sense of distance from herself as she becomes more lost.
It is a fantastic read. It is captivating and engaging and unputdownable. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend you read it.
The film is available on Amazon and I hope to watch it soon - I will let you know how I feel it compares!

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