13. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

039My 52 Books Challenge is finally picking up pace – this was another one-day job during the week, and I’m so glad to have finally read it! Now, before I go any further I do have a confession to make. I may have seen the film for this one first, before reading the book… It’s like a cardinal sin, isn’t it? I really wanted to go and see Still Alice when it was out in cinemas, but it never happened, and I had put myself on a two month book buying ban in March so I wasn’t able to buy the book until we were away in America. Turns out it costs $16 dollars in the US (16?!), rather than about the £4 or so I paid on Amazon in the UK. So I waited, and the film happened to be one of our in-flight entertainment options on the way back from the US. I watched it, loved it, and as soon as we returned to the UK the book was mine! Anyway…

Dr Alice Howland is a professor of linguistics at Harvard University. She and her husband John live not far from campus, have three grown up children and a bustling academic and social life. Alice prides herself on her intellect and her memory skills. However, when she starts having bouts of forgetfulness, including getting lost in the middle of Harvard Square while out for a run, she pays a visit to her doctor to try and get to the bottom of it. But the symptoms she believed to be menopausal are soon revealed to be something much worse. Alice has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Age 50 and in the prime of her life, Alice suddenly has to come to terms with losing one of her most prized possessions: her mind and her intelligence, as every day becomes a struggle to hold on to who she is, to be able to say that she is still Alice.

I really enjoyed Still Alice. Alzheimer’s is a disease we typically associate with the oldest members of society, and to address it all, let alone in someone younger and extremely mentally capable, is a brave choice on the part of author Lisa Genova. It is a difficult read at times, and incredibly moving. It presents you with moral dilemmas left, right and centre: what would you do if your loved one was diagnosed? Would you stick by them no matter what? How would you cope? And even more so, how would you cope if you were diagnosed at such an early age? How would you cope with the frustrations of losing your faculties, one by one, but having periods of lucidity when you realise and remember what’s happening to you? Would you even want to keep living when you knew what the outcome would be?

You will think about all this and more reading Still Alice. It is a heartbreaking story, but such an important one to tell. The characters are all so relatable in their varied personalities and reactions. And although you felt for Alice’s family, she was the one who truly got to me. I felt for her so much – I pride myself on having at least some intelligence, although nothing to her standard – and I would hate to lose that. Your mind is such a key part of your personality, and without it how could you define yourself? How could you still be yourself without the thought process, memories, words and expressions which are unique to you?

I hate to admit it, but I think enjoyed the film of Still Alice more than the book. I found it a little difficult to focus on the book on the day I read it, and having the actors’ faces in my mind helped me to concentrate on each character properly. I also think, having now read the book, that the film did an excellent job capturing the essence of the story, all the most important facets, and turning them into film footage. If you can’t be bothered to read the book (though I strongly recommend that you do), then watch the film. I’m not at all surprised that Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland!

Still Alice is not a story that can have a happy ending – as well all know, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. But it is a story that will make you count your blessings once you’ve read it, and will help you to live each and every moment to the full. We only get one life – we need to make the absolute most of the years we are fortunate enough to enjoy.

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