Still Alice is the story of one woman’s descent into dementia through early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. 50 year old Alice Howland was a renowned psychology professor at Harvard, called upon to give guest lectures and speeches in her field around the globe.
A busy professional with a choc-a-block schedule, when she first started experiencing moments of confusion and forgetfulness Alice put it down to stress or menopause, but it wasn’t until she felt completely lost just a few streets from her house that she started to take it seriously.
“So Alice, tell me what’s been going on.”
“I’ve been having lots of problems remembering, and it doesn’t feel normal. I’m forgetting words in lectures and conversation, I need to put ‘cognition class’ on my to-do list or I might forget to teach it, I completely forgot to go to go to the airport for a conference in Chicago and missed my flight. I also didn’t know where I was for a couple of minutes once in Harvard Square, and I’m a professor at Harvard, I’m there every day.”
Genova’s style of writing in Still Alice instantly appealed to me. It was like being told about the events of the past week by a friend or family member, and with the subtle nuances of professional and family relationships woven into the story I felt like a participant rather than someone watching from the outside.
We are given an insight into the toll the disease has on Alice’s relationships (both professional and personal). Her relationship with her husband, John feels the most strain with tears, disagreements and John’s inability to watch Alzheimer’s strip away his wife’s once brilliant and intelligent personality. However, Alice’s relationship with her youngest daughter Lydia is strengthened by her disease allowing both women to overcome past hurts and spend time together while Alice still had her capacity.
She traced the outline of his jaw and chin and the creases of his sorely out of practice laughter lines with her hands. She wiped the sweat from his forehead and the tears from his eyes.
“I can barely breathe when I think about it. But we have to think about it. I don’t know how much longer I have to know you. We need to talk about what’s going to happen.”
He tipped his glass back, swallowed until there was nothing left, and then sucked a little more from the ice. Then he looked at her with a scared and profound sorrow in his eyes that she’d never seen there before.
“I don’t know if I can.”
The novel continually highlights the need for person centered care when it comes to any degenerative disease. So often care givers and relatives start to take away decisions from those who are ill assuming they know what is best for them, or simply talk about them as though they are not in the room which can be demeaning and distressing. Alice attempts to take those choices back with a secret pact and the help of her blackberry organiser, but eventually when they blackberry is broken her choices seem to slip away.
“That’s right, you’re not here all the time. You don’t see how bad it’s getting. She pretends to know a lot more than she does. You think that she’s going to appreciate that we’re in Cambridge a year from now? She doesn’t recognise where she is now when we’re three blocks away. We could very well be in New York City, and I could tell her it’s Harvard Square, and she wouldn’t know the difference.”
“Yes, she would Dad,” said Tom “Don’t say that.”
Both heartbreaking and warming it’s a read I thoroughly enjoyed. Have you read Still Alice, what were your thoughts?