Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Still Alice

Posted by nliakos on May 14, 2015

by Lisa Genova (Gallery Books, 2007, 2009; ISBN 978-105011-0642-2)

I have not seen the movie, but I would venture to guess that the book, better than the movie, helps the reader to understand the gut-wrenching journey of Dr. Alice Howland, a linguist and professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard, as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease cripples her ability to remember, think, speak, understand, earn a living and generally function in the world. After all, when you watch a movie, you watch how someone behaves and listen to them speak, but you cannot enter their mind. Even though the novel is written in the third person, a reader understands Alice’s frustration and terror as if s/he were experiencing it first hand; at least I did. Rarely have I identified so quickly and completely with a character. During the three days that I was reading the book, I attributed every memory lapse I experienced to my Alzheimer’s, as if I and not Alice had received that diagnosis, or as if I were Alice. It was unsettling, to say the least.

As Alice’s condition deteriorates, her thoughts reflect her inability to realize that she has already said something (through repetition of the same utterance) and to identify the names of people with her (she refers to them as the man, the mother, the actress) or everyday things, like cream cheese (white butter). It’s very effective.

The novel also describes state-of-the-art treatments for Alzheimer’s disease as they were when Genova wrote it. It’s a good resource for caregivers and family members. Actual Alzheimer’s patients, especially those whose disease manifests itself early (in their 40s or 50s–Alice is 50 when she receives her diagnosis), will also find a hero in Alice as she feels her way down the dark corridor of Alzheimer’s.

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