Monday, 1 April 2019

Still Alice by Lisa Genova


Still Alice by Lisa Genova
First self-published in America in 2007. Republished by Pocket Books in 2009.

Featured in 5Books1Theme: Books To Film

How I got this book:
Bought a second-hand paperback

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty, she's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert in linguistics, with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow forgetful and disoriented, she dismisses it for as long as she can until a tragic diagnosis changes her life - and her relationship with her family and the world around her - for ever. 

Unable to care for herself, Alice struggles to find meaning and purpose as her concept of self gradually slips away. But Alice is a remarkable woman, and her family learn more about her and each other in their quest to hold on to the Alice they know. Her memory hanging by a frayed thread, she is living in the moment, living for each day. But she is still Alice. 

There's a small bookshelf in the entrance to Chain Bridge Honey Farm which has a reasonable selection of second-hand books for sale. I spotted a good condition copy of Still Alice for 50p and decided to give it a read as the novel has been so popular since its film version was released. My first problem with the book however was caused by this duality. The Alice on the cover bears no physical resemblance to the Alice in the text, so there were a couple of significant points where I didn't immediately identify the small woman with dark curly hair described in the text with the straight auburn haired woman pictured. It does annoy me when publishers set their integrity aside to cash in like this! There must have other film images that would have been suitable and accurate to the prose. (Rant over!)

The novel itself is OK. Alice Hoffman is a Harvard University psychology professor specialising in language, who begins to lose her own ability to communicate as she develops early onset Alzheimer's disease. Oh, the (frequently hammered home) irony! Genova also piles on emotional triggers by including a historic family tragedy and a forthcoming possible birth so this could have been a real tear-jerker in the right hands. I didn't feel that any of the characters leapt off the page to me though. Alice's husband, John, is an unsympathetic creation seeming mostly to exist to spout medical information to the reader.

For me, this story and the affluent family at its centre were just too removed from reality, despite the novel telling a story that must have all-too-real elements for many families worldwide. There have been a number of dementia-related novels launched over the past year or so and, for a nuanced and deeply understanding portrayal of the disease and its harrowing effects, I would recommend Elisabeth Is Missing over Still Alice anyday.

Etsy Find!
by The Secret Stitchery in
Windsor, England

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Lisa Genova / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

12 comments:

  1. I agree about Alice's husband-I felt at times that he just doesn't care about her. I also found it a bit hard going at times with all the stuff about her work and repetitive about the tests they kept doing with her. An ok read but I've read better for sure.

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    1. 100% agree! My comment was going to be very similar!

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    2. I didn't realise this was first published as an indie title until I came to write up this blog post. I think some of the issues could have been remedied by the big publisher

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    3. Her husband seemed far more interested in the medical diagnosis than his wife's experience!

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  2. This was ok for me too. Good find at the library though.

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    1. Exactly! I'd have been disappointed had I paid full price for my copy!

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  3. I'm not familiar with movie or book (lives under rock, LOL), but the things you describe would likely cause me trouble connecting with the story, too.

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    1. It's simple lack of thought on the part of the publisher, but that kind of thing really irritates me!

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  4. oh I have to add this one to my book adaptations to read and watch! I didn't know it was a book! I already wanted to watch the movie because of the mental health topic!

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    1. Genova is obviously an expert in her field so this novel has lots of information about Alice's predicament

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  5. Interesting! I know that this one is quite popular so I actually have it on my books I want to read list. But I think when it comes to dealing with topics which a lot of people have some personal struggles with and experiences with, you do need to be sensitive and make it realistic. So it's a bit of a shame it isn't, and that the characters didn't really connect with you either. Ah... that's my main problem with seeing film images or the film before reading it. I want to envision the characters myself before being met with an actor/actress to be the image!

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    1. I think part of the problem for was the author's inclusion of so much medical information. It would be interesting in a nonfiction book, but detracted from the emotional impact in this fictional story

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