The 3rd in my 52 Books Challenge is Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot. I bought it off Amazon just before Christmas, having read and loved her novel, The Husband’s Secret. Anna had recommended that one to me, and I was drawn in by the strong plot line, a host of complex characters and Moriarty’s engaging writing style. I strongly recommend checking it out.
What Alice Forgot can essentially be summed up as follows: woman falls over and bangs her head. When she wakes up, she has forgotten the last ten years of her life, including the birth of her three children and the breakdown of her marriage. So far so simple, right? Your main question is probably, ‘Does she get her memory back?’ But what I love about Moriarty’s writing is that she goes into much more depth than this, really exploring the character’s personalities and backstories, and going to the effort to make even the smallest incident significant to the novel’s progression (case in point for this story – George and Mildred the sandstone lions!)
Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, having knocked herself out during step class. Her last memories are of being pregnant and madly in love with her husband, aged 29. Now she is 39, with three children, a husband who can’t stand her and a sister who, once so close to her, is now icily distant. I really felt for Alice. Her 29 year old self seems a little ditzy but lovely, and to wake up and find your entire life has changed, and not necessarily for the better, would be so terrible. She has to adjust, not only to ten years’ worth of worldwide changes (technology, politics, pop culture), but also to finding her family, the one constant, is warped and changed.
This novel certainly makes you reflect on your own life. I found myself imagining what my life would be like if I woke up tomorrow thinking I was ten years younger. I would be fourteen, still at school, with all my exams and my degree (and the stress that goes with them!) still ahead of me. Our family dog would still be alive, my parents would still be together, I’d still be living in Suffolk, and I’d never have had a boyfriend. I wouldn’t know half the friends I have now, and I wouldn’t be able to drive. My entire life would essentially be different, and my fourteen year old self certainly wouldn’t recognise the twenty-four year old in the mirror! But then I guess that’s to be expected at such a young age. Alice being that bit older means that a lot of her life is the same, but with deliberate mistakes. She still has her sister, but where they were once so close, now they have drifted and have lost their closeness. She is still married to Nick, whom she adores, but who now can’t bear to spend a minute alone with her.
One of the main reasons I love Liane Moriarty’s work is because of the detail she goes into when writing her characters. They are so believable you feel like you could meet them round the next corner. I really liked the characters – Alice and her sister Elisabeth, their adoptive grandmother Frannie and Alice’s three children. I found it a bit difficult to warm to Nick – he was a bit of a douche, cold and hard and bitter towards Alice for the breakdown of their marriage. I felt defensive on Alice’s behalf – although the ten years she lost caused a great deal of damage, she can’t remember it, and Nick seemed intent on persecuting her for her past, caught up in bitter memories rather than trying to move forward. He wasn’t the man she fell in love with. However, the flashbacks to ten years earlier make you love him, and you long for that same Nick to re-emerge and for him and Alice to fall back into each other’s arms.
I really enjoyed this novel. It’s easy to read, but the plot is enjoyable and gripping. I was turning pages like there was no tomorrow, and had to tear myself away from it on more than one occasion! I know that this book would probably technically fall into the category of chick lit, but that does it a little bit of a disservice, as you would expect it to be fluffy and empty-headed with such a label. But it is more intelligent than that – it is chick lit, but with a darker twist. I fly through the pages, but there is always something to make me think, a lasting impact that the novel leads behind.
I also really like the Aussie element to Moriarty’s stories – her novels are all set in Sydney, where she lives, and I love the little insight into Australian culture, whether it be a reference to lamingtons or BBQs or learning Japanese (somewhere along the lines, I learned that Australian schoolchildren, instead of studying European languages at school, can opt to study Asian languages instead, as they are so much closer to Asia than Europe and conduct more trade with them).
Obviously I can’t tell you whether Alice gets her memory back or not, but her quest to rediscover the missing ten years and reconcile with Nick and Elisabeth is definitely worth the emotional rollercoaster ride. Moriarty’s work is refreshing, engaging, heart-warming and poignant. I love reading her books, and I have already ordered a third, The Hypnotist’s Love Story. Watch out for my review of that one later in the year!
If you like novels with excellent character development, a seemingly simple but deliciously complex plot, twists and turns, smiles and sadness, you will love this one. Read it!