Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Thursday, July 15, 2010


At fifty years old, Alice is a respected cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics. Her husband is also a highly successful professor at Harvard. Their two oldest children were well-settled into their lives, while the youngest one, Lydia, didn't attend college but found herself inclined towards an acting career. Lately, however, Alice had been forgetting things, such as a word that was at the tip of her tongue but which eluded her for a long time. Soon though, she began to forget bigger and more important things - such as which topic she was to lecture about in a class in spite of spending her last hour preparing for the class, a conference she was supposed to fly to in spite of having prepared for it all day long, At one time when she was jogging, she even forgot the way to her home although she had been through that street countless times in all the years she had been there. Alice was beginning to display the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's.

I cannot even begin to express how much I loved this book. For a long time, I had been hesitant to read it, knowing that a box of kleenex is essential. Moreover, someone I know well succumbed to this disease last year. As I read the book, I cried a lot. For Alice, her husband her children, and for all who suffer from this disease.

What especially makes this book work is that Lisa Genova has written this fiction from Alice's viewpoint. The reader gets to see Alice actually forget people. One minute, she's addressing her daughter as Lydia, and in the next minute, she has metamorphosed into "the actress". At one point, Alice has been excited to attend Lydia's theatrical performance in her town. When the show is over, Alice doesn't recognize Lydia at all, instead she talks to her as a stranger, congratulating her on her work.

When Alice realizes that she is losing her memory, her to-do lists, which consisted of single words to indicate each task, soon transform into lengthy phrases with plenty of hints. So much of her experience feels natural and yet eerie. It is hard not to well up when once she reads an item of her list telling she has a class, and instead of heading there to teach, she goes to the class and sits as a student waiting for her teacher. When others talk of her in front of her, we get to see Alice's view of things. She does understand them, but her faculties are slow. This is very indicative of how people in general treat some one with a mental disability. The world sees them as mental failures and deems it safe to talk about them even in their presence.
Alice knew that the young woman sitting across from her was her daughter, but she had a disturbing lack of confidence in this knowledge. She knew that she had a daughter named Lydia, but when she looked at the young woman sitting across from her, knowing that she was her daughter Lydia was more academic knowledge than implicit understanding, a fact she agreed to, information she'd been given and accepted as true.

Through Alice's eyes, we see how the event takes a toll on each member of the family. Her husband, John struggles the most to accept her diagnosis. I can't say I agreed with everything he said and did, and at times I found him too selfish and insensitive, but it's not hard to see how he has been affected by the tragedy. I have seen people distance themselves away from those they love so that they are less hurting. It is a strategy we all use in life, and if the story had been from John's perspective, I might have appreciated him better. But this is Alice's story. And though she has accepted her tragedy, but John probably never came to terms with it, we still see how much Alice might love it if John just yielded.

This is one of the best books I've read, not least because it made me cry. Lisa did a great job in telling the story from Alice's perspective. This is the kind of book that makes you appreciate those who have the disease better. Still Alice is a novel that is a testament to the human spirit. It is a assertion of Alice's persona even if she no longer has any recollection of herself and her close ones. It is an indication that at the core, a person remains the same he/she always has been.


Check out this book published by Simon & Schuster (Pocket) @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I borrowed this book from my library.

11 comments:

Molly said...

While I read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it, I found it very difficult to write a review that would do it justice. You, however, did a marvelous job!

This is a book that I know I will read again.

Marce said...

This is on my favourite of all time books.

My dad has Alzeimers and this book helped me understand better.

You did a great job for reviewing it Aths.

Beachreader said...

Thanks for the insightful.review. I have put it on the top of my TBR list.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

O my heart breaks just reading your review. My abuelita (grandmother) has this. She's totally forgotten who I am. It's horribly sad. Thanks for the review :)

Helen's Book Blog said...

Thank you for adding ANOTHER book to my TBR pile! Great review

bermudaonion said...

I really want to read this book - I'm sure I'll have to have tissues close by too. Great review!

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

This sounds like an amazing novel. Beautiful review, Aths! I especially love the way you described the perspectives of the different characters.

Marjorie said...

I have read this book and your review is right on, this is one amazing book. My mother and her
siblings all had Altzheimer's and I hope it is not in my future.
I am nearing the age my mom got it.

mywordlyobsessions said...

This looks a very good book. It must be terrifying to wake up one day and find that you can't remember something trivial. For someone like Alice it must be a horrific ordeal.

I know someone who has Alzhemier's in her family. It seems to affect only the females. Lately there's been news that they've solved the reason why some people succumb to it. I hope there is a cure for those in risk.

Lisa said...

I keep moving this one up the pile of books I need to read but then I keep getting bogged down with books I need to read for reviews. I. Must. Read.This. Soon!

christa @ mental foodie said...

It's one of my best reads! I'm glad you like it as much as I do :) A difficult topic, but she wrote it so well. I loved how the author revealed the plot. I couldn't stop crying when I read ******** MAYBE SPOILER *********** about the letter.