Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

So, here it is; my very first book review (on my blog anyway).

Before I start, I think I should just point out the fact that I am by no means a professional reviewer. I don’t do this for a living and I am not being paid by anyone to do this. What you will find below is 100% my opinion and only my opinion, I am not saying you have to share it. Whilst I take into consideration that we are all different and all have our own opinion, I thought it may be nice to share mine with you. Mainly because it’s a very positive opinion I have! Also, I think it’s only fair that I should give you a little spoiler alert right here. As I am not a professional, I am not very good at commenting on something without going into detail so there may be parts of this review that give away parts of the novel. I’m sorry in advance but I have warned you. I don’t think they’re huge spoilers, just be aware.

Anyway, here I go…wish me luck!

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Still Alice

A poignant title. A title that needs no in-depth thinking and not one that requires a complete analysis as it is very self-explanatory but poignant all the same, a reminder that whatever we go through, whatever we face, we are still us. I am still me and you are still you. Poignant and in this case hard-hitting because this is something a lot of people (including myself) can forget when we are faced with people who have Alzheimer’s.

I’ve wanted to read this novel for a while but a lot of things kept getting in my way.

I tried in bed.
I tried in bed,
I tried on the train.
I tried on the train
and I tried in the living room with some music on,
and I tried in the living room with some music on but there was always a distraction.

I finally delved straight into it during a holiday to Ibiza where I could sink into the world of Alice and her family all day long if I wanted. This book and Alice’s story was enticing and dangerous at the same time. Enticing because it would reveal some things that I was dying to know and dangerous because in turn, this could reveal some very raw emotion. Still Alice grabbed my attention more than other novels because it was something very close to home. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you will know that my Granddad had Alzheimer’s for years, a condition I hadn’t heard a lot of before that. What appealed to me most about Still Alice was the fact that it was from her point of view. Alice, the protagonist was the one with Alzheimer’s, she wasn’t a carer or onlooker, she was smack bang in the middle of the condition. Alice took us through her experiences, she made us feel her emotions and confusion with her and I loved this. Sounds a bit odd doesn’t it? I loved this? I did though because it was fascinating, unbelievable and sad all at the same time. When Granddad had Alzheimer’s I very often wanted to do my best to look beyond the Alzheimer’s and remember he was still Granddad. However, I found this difficult because I couldn’t understand what was going on in his head; I didn’t know what he could still understand and what he couldn’t. Alice helped me understand this, her character made me imagine what my Granddad may have felt and I loved this novel for this. I guess the fact that I’m referring to Alice using her first name and at times, as if she wasn’t even a character, shows how cleverly written this novel is and how Genova is able to pull you into Alice’s world so easily.

I absolutely loved this book. It is a real page turner (or at least it was for me). I wanted to know how Alice was getting on each month and in each chapter, I wanted to know what she was holding onto each month and what was slipping away and I wanted to know if she could remember the answers to all the questions; I was intrigued and gripped throughout.

A scene that particularly sticks in my head is the one where she delivers her speech on Alzheimer’s. After years of education, years of being a very intelligent lady (and showing everyone just how intelligent she was) and years of delivering lectures based on fact and knowledge, Alice turned to her emotions to deliver this speech. Genova made Alice put aside the academic aspect of her character and she became very exposed. What this did, was made every word Alice spoke, truthful and raw; full of emotion! The speech was relatable, she was relatable. Genova gave Alice a rush from this speech, a rush we hadn’t seen her experience before. There was a sense of mindfulness in this part, a sense of living life to the full, taken each moment as it comes and I loved this. It was beautifully written and I could picture her family there, the faces and names she didn’t want to forget but faces and names she would appreciate there and then all the same!

I did however find some relationships that Genova created very odd. For example, Alice and John’s relationship wasn’t what I had wanted or would want for myself. I thought Genova was creating a relationship that would be miraculously fixed because of the Alzheimer’s. I thought John was going to all of a sudden put Alice first and forget about his work. Instead, I felt he dealt with her diagnosis poorly and let his dreams and his ideals come before hers. The day I read about his trip to New York and his idea to cancel their sabbatical plans was the day I gripped Dan’s hand a little harder. I guess just because I don’t think Dan would ever do that. I know Dan would want to stick by me until the end and be as selfless as he could but John couldn’t seem to do that for Alice and I wondered why Genova would make him act this way. Is it because she wanted to show how different people react differently in situations? Is it because she wanted to emphasise how lonely and isolated Alice felt? Is it because she wanted to show how easy it was to ignore someone with Alzheimer’s? Or is it because I’m too selfish to see others go on with their lives and she wanted me to question myself on that? Whatever the reason, what this relationship did for me was make me seek for the character who would listen to Alice, who would still include her and treat her as a human and who would put her wants and emotions first (and maybe this is what Genova had wanted all along). Anyway, I found that character, it took a little while for them to become clear, but I found her; Lydia!

Although Lydia’s relationship with her mother is somewhat broken at the beginning of the story, the small cracks that at first appear huge soon disappear towards the end and for this, Lydia is my favourite character. She doesn’t hold a grudge, she doesn’t dwell on the past she just looks to the future and goes on the journey with Alice instead of watching from the outside. Now, if you’re reading this having watched the film but not read the book please don’t judge my decision. Read the book then feel free to judge my decision. I think that the two Lydia’s are portrayed very, very differently. In the novel, Lydia is everything I would want to be; discrete, caring, understanding and empathetic (but not to the point of patronising). I think Genova has deliberately (and brilliantly) enabled the reader to compare the siblings when told the news of the diagnosis. Lydia’s main concerns are her mother and what she can do to help. Whereas Anna’s loyalties clearly lie elsewhere (her own future) and although Genova didn’t show that Alice was bitter about this in any way, it sure didn’t stop me feeling a little bit of dislike towards Anna and Anna’s clear selfishness. Lydia was the tool for Alice to keep some dignity and Lydia was, in my eyes, the most loyal; I really think the last part shows this!

The last two pages are my favourite. When I first read them, I was a little disappointed but I couldn’t work out why I was disappointed. I think it was because I had predicted an ending that Genova didn’t deliver. After a little thought though, the ending really hit me and I felt a tear trickling down my cheek and a sense of great sadness that I really wasn’t expecting. I’m finding it hard to explain but the ending took a while to sink in but when it did, it hit me hard. This may be because I have emotional ties to the story or it may be the powerful and emotional way in which Genova delivered the last two pages; with hope, with dignity and with a little bit of Alice. The last two pages are the most hard-hitting, the most surprising, the most humane and in these two pages, Genova is able to really capture this stage of Alice’s Alzheimer’s. The way Genova makes Alice refer to Lydia as “the actress” showed her confusion over faces and names but the way Alice is able to recognise the emotion showed that Alice was still there, Alice could still feel and that Alice was still Alice.

Genova took her time to delicately deliver the account of someone who has Alzheimer’s, constantly reminding the reader that their opinions, their thoughts and their feelings still count and can still exist. She shows the painful journey that one has to take when faced with Alzheimer’s, a journey I am sure many have to face. I guess Genova just wants us to make sure they don’t face it alone and I’m with her! Are you?

I’d like to publicly thank Lisa Genova (even though I’m sure she won’t read this) for opening my eyes a little to how my granddad might have felt and how others around me who are facing Alzheimer’s may be feeling. I never want anyone around me to allow Alzheimer’s to make them feel lonely and isolated!

You can buy Still Alice by clicking here. I loved it so much I’ve moved onto Love Anthony which you can buy by clicking here.

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