Alice Howland is 50 years old. She is Psychology Professor at Harvard. She is a loving wife, with three beautiful children. She is known to the world as the brilliant professor, who could tell you name and dates to the majority of the studies done in her field. In her line of work, Alice relies heavily on her brain to shine as one of the brightest minds at the University she has been employed at for the last twenty five years.
When Alice is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease, the very fabric of everything she is known for begins to unravel, and the brilliant mind she once held so dear to her is now her worst enemy, as she struggles to hold on to her grip of reality.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about this particular illness. Of course, I know the basics of what it can do to the brain, but thankfully, it was never something I needed an in depth knowledge of. To me, it was always one of those ‘taboo’ diseases that I tried to avoid, such as cancer. When I started to read Still Alice, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I guess I imagined it to be one of those books where you’re with Alice for the duration of the novel, and you know what’s going on around her as the reader, even if she doesn’t.
One of the strongest points I have to emphasise about this book is that I was completely wrong with my first impression. Genova isn’t telling you a story about a woman with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. She’s telling you Alice’s story.
It was one of the easiest reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way. Still Alice doesn’t try and blindside you with extreme scientific terminology (which, let’s face it, 99% of us skip over when reading in books, or at the very least skim through it to get back to a language we all understand), nor does it focus too much on one particular aspect of Alice. Yes, this book is about a woman coming to terms with her illness, but she is not one to sit around, constantly thinking about what will happen when her mind finally succumbs to the inevitable. Alice has a family to think about, she has her job, her students and an entire life to focus on. Sadly, this does become less so as the book progresses, but that’s only because that’s where Alice is in that particular moment. They’re not subplots that drive the narrative forward and then cast aside once they’ve fulfilled their purposes. They just become less important to her as Alice continues her battle.
I will admit, as well, that while I think it is a wonderful idea to tell us the story through Alice’s eyes, there were times I found myself getting a little frustrated with the narrative. When Alice forgets something, we know the answer she is seeking, because chances are, it was mentioned earlier in the book. But there were also times, as the illness really starts to take control of her, that she begins talking about things we as the reader have no idea about. For example, there is a scene with her Doctor, who tells her he hears she will be giving a speech at an Alzheimer’s awareness party, and Alice agrees and asks if he will be going. Unless I missed it, I was not aware Alice was planning on doing this, and for a split second, I thought this was lazy writing, until I realised that this is exactly how Alice would have seen this scene. I understand this is probably what Genova wanted from her reader, and I have to applaud her of the sensitive way she wrote this scene.
Still Alice is, quite simply, a beautifully written book, about a woman who, despite getting off to a rocky start due to her attitude when it comes to her children’s professions, will tug at your heartstrings for simply trying to be herself. Though this book deals with quite a heavy issue that continues to affect millions, each year, Genova handle’s it with such grace. She isn’t shoving the Alzheimer’s down your throat, she is simply bringing to light an illness that we’ve all heard about, and only a few will know the effects it has on the patient, as well as their loved ones. It is hard to believe that this is Genova’s first book, but it has definitely made me want to find out what else she has to offer.
Still Alice is was adapted into an Oscar winning movie starring Julianne Moore.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster