Wednesday 3 April 2013

Still Alice - (not an A to Z post)

Yes, that does say Large Print Edition, and no, my eyes have not got that bad, it was simply the edition the library had. 'Still Alice' by Lisa Genova is another one of those books that I read about somewhere and added to the request list. Her website says that she has created her own genre, and she certainly has found her niche; her other two books are about a woman struggling after a brain injury and a boy with autism. This novel examines Alzheimer's Disease. She is a highly educated science type who's aim in writing seems partly to be to raise awareness and understanding of these complex conditions. The story follows Alice from her first noticing strange symptoms, through her diagnosis, telling her family, having to give up work and the huge readjustments of her life, and then traces her steady decline, watching as the world makes less and less sense to her. It is written totally from Alice's point of view, but in the third person, so you have a slight element of distance, someone telling us what Alice is thinking and feeling and experiencing. It is told like this I suppose because Alice reaches the point where she is no longer capable of articulating what she thinks, at which point, if she was telling it herself, the story would have had to end.  

It has all the ingredients of a best seller (which it has been); people who live a perfect life succumbing to tragic events that are beyond their control. Alice and her husband John are high achieving academics,  their children, a daughter lawyer, a trainee-doctor son and a wayward actor daughter, can all have whatever they want in life, the sun shines on them whenever they pop off to their holiday home retreat and doctor's bills cause them no concern. While it was well written and portrayed Alice's growing confusion very effectively, I found that I did not relate to any of the characters very much. Her conflict with her youngest daughter over her life choices and her rejection of the acceptable school-college-good job path that was expected of her did not endear Alice to me from the outset. And the husband, didn't like him at all, very unsympathetic and did not appear to give his wife the support you would expect in such dire circumstances. As she deteriorates he wants to take up a very prestigious position in New York, an idea she rejects outright, but then he justifies his desire and actions by telling the children that Alice would not want him to restrict his life because of her condition. He is so wrapped up in his career that her needs seem to come a very poor second for him. The daughters however come through for their mum and create a support network that encompasses her needs and their own lives and their desire to continue to love and care for her. 

The things I didn't like about the book: far to much waffle at the beginning, the description of their life and her work, I guess to emphasise what she is losing but I found it boring. Something that nearly made me put the book down: enumerating the contents of her daughter's bathroom she labels everything with brand names ... why? It was utterly irrelevant to the story and made me wonder if there was some kind of product placement thing going on. Thirdly, maybe this is just me but it felt like there was some not so subtle intimation that because she was very intellectual the loss of her brain function was somehow more of a tragedy for her than it would have been for someone who's life did not revolve around language, teaching, writing and all these academic achievements. She doesn't say it in so many words but she harps on and on about this aspect of Alice's life, how important it is to her and how appalling the loss is. And then the ending; she is enjoying a busker along the sea front before going back to spend the weekend with her daughters and grandchildren, contentedly oblivious to her situation, still active and physically able, well cared for by a private carer, apparently living in the family holiday home. It was far too idealistic and even slightly rosy and hopeful. Considering how true to life she had obviously tried to make the rest of the story I think she chickened out from presenting the reality of where Alice's existence was headed.

The book was interesting mostly because of the Coursera course I am doing about the nature of the self. It raised many questions about the nature of consciousness and thought and what makes a person. The title is asking that question in a way; is she still Alice when everything that was Alice is gone?

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