#42 “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova

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  1. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  2. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  3. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  4. Still Alice – Lisa Genova
  5. Not For Glory, Not For Gold – Keith Miles
  6. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  7. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  8. The Green Mile – Stephen King
  9. Tiger Men – Judy Nunn
  10. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
  11. The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion
  12. The Bane Chronicles  – Cassandra Clare et al
  13. Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
  14. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

I don’t know why I’m still bothering with the crossing off of books at the beginning of my posts. Maybe because it makes me feel like I’m slowly getting through my TBR list, I dunno. It only really came to mind because Still Alice wasn’t on this list. I won it! I actually also won two free tickets to the movie version as well, but I have to wait until I’m back in Brisbane in order to use them. Damnit.

Still Alice was remarkable, in that this story warrants people’s remarks. Our protagonist, Alice Howland, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Genova follows Alice’s deterioration. We see the entire journey, from the presentation of symptoms to Alice’s heartbreaking descent into oblivion, from Alice’s point of view. This makes for some confusing reading, but only because we are pushed right up against the glass in watching Alice’s “journey”. There’s a scene in which Alice is supposed to be getting ready to go running with her husband. But when she leaves the room to put on a jumper against the chilly weather, she forgets what she’s doing and so curls up under a blanket with a book and a cup of tea and her husband comes in and has to remind her that they were supposed to go running. All of this, in reality, would have happened in about five minutes. So we get a real sense of how bad Alice’s memory actually is.

My favourite quote from this book was in the very first paragraph. It was, in fact, the very first sentence:

Even then, more than a year earlier, there were neurons in her head, not far from her ears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them.

This foreshadows everything that happens in the book. Especially in the beginning, when Alice is forgetting harmless things like her keys and a word during a speech. First sentences are a hard thing to get right, but Genova nailed it.

Given that this book is all about mental health, it has a special place in my heart. Although my main focus will one day be depression, the stigma attached to mental health is one that’s deeply explored in Still Alice. People treat those suffering from mental illness as lepers. And it sucks. The only difference between mental illness, in this case Alzheimer’s, and a physical illness like cancer is that mental illness is invisible. And because of that, people treat mental illness differently. One of the best scenes in this entire book was the speech Alice gave at an Alzheimer’s convention. She’d lost her ability to teach and to speak in front of crowds without prompting, but what was actually said during Alice’s speech was amazing. She talked about the stigma and the prejudice. I almost felt as though Genova were talking directly to the reader, but not in a bad way. Keeping an open mind about mental illness is something that we all need to do, and so Genova found a way to talk to us about it through a character’s speech. Brilliant.

Because we are so close to Alice’s story, we lose a bit of character development in the secondary characters of the husband and the kids. But in my opinion, this just adds to Alice’s disease. She loses the details of her family and therefore, so do we. We don’t know where John goes when he goes to “work”. We never meet Lydia’s man Malcolm, and we never really hear about Anne’s job as a lawyer. But all of these things would become less and less important as Alice simply tries to hang onto who her family actually is.

We get a tiny insight into different reactions to Alzheimer’s, in the reactions of Alice’s children, which I found great. But, again, these were fleeting impressions. Some may say that this is a detractor. I feel like it strengthens Genova’s representation of Alzheimer’s.

At the end of Still Alice, we get a Q&A with Genova and it answers a few questions about the direction of the story and why Genova made some of the decisions she did. Now, a lot of you may buy into the Barthes’ theory that the author is dead. That nothing Genova intended means anything once the story is in the hands of the reader. But, for me, the reasons why Genova wrote this book matter. And they should matter to the reader. Genova is passionate about Alzheimer’s and its advocacy. So, this fact should inform the way we read this book.

Still Alice is terrifying. It shows exactly what happens to someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, right up close and personal. But because it’s so scary, it should help readers to more understand this disease and therefore stop spreading the prejudice surrounding it, and other mental illnesses.

★★★★★

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
This entry was posted in Extorting Bibliophilia and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to #42 “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova

  1. That bookmark is EPIC!:D

  2. moosha23 says:

    Oh my gosh, this book sounds so beautiful. Just today we were talking about mental health and the stigma attached to it (by the way you totally got it right: the only difference is that mental illness is invisible). I want to read this book and understand the terror of having Alzheimer’s. The first sentence is heart-rendering.

    • Bec Graham says:

      It is an amazing book! Absolutely incredible. And the entire book is heartbreaking. But beautiful. Genova’s next book is going to be about Huntington’s disease. Which sounds horrific. The first chapter was incredible, though

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