Saturday 14 May 2011

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I decided it was only fair to disabuse people who might visit here and think I only read literary or obscure novels (though her surname is some kind of weird coincidence)... so occasionally I do read purely for entertainment. I requested this from the library based on a review I read online, intrigued by the plot device.

Our protagonist Alice wakes from a pleasant dream to find herself on the floor of a gym, surrounded by people she does not know, except for a good friend who is strangely different. She is convinced she is 29, madly in love with her new husband and pregnant with her first baby, but what she learns is that she is in fact 39, has three children and is going through a very messy divorce. She has fallen at her 'Friday Step Class' and banged her head, and in the process lost ten years of her memory. The story follows Alice's 29 year old self as she discovers with horror what has become of her idyllic life, and as she gets to know her children and reconnect with her estranged sister. The events of the following week are interspersed with chapters by other characters, her sister Elizabeth writing a diary for her therapist and her 'grandmother' Frannie who writes a blog, with contributions from her commenters, both of which fill you in with details that Alice could well do with to make sense of the world she finds herself in. This is kind of where the book falls down, because no one seems to take her memory loss very seriously and, instead of being traumatised, she spends her whole time trying to fake it, and telling people she is remembering things, stifling what she really wants to say, and guessing at things instead of demanding outright that her family tell her what is going on. Then there is the elusive Gina, who's name is mentioned in hushed tones, Dominick the handsome stranger who acts like her boyfriend, and Nick, her husband, who treats her with anger and distain when her own emotions are back at the beginning of their marriage.

The thing that really drew me in to the story, and had me sitting with the book after I got home from work yesterday until mid evening when I finished it, was the idea that she could change her own life, that her younger self could reclaim her life from the neurotic, controlling, rather self-obsessed and somewhat obnoxious older self who seemed to have made a real mess of things. As snippets of memory drift back into focus for Alice over the following days, the somewhat predictable ending also drifts into view for the reader, and I was just furious, I didn't want the 39 year old Alice to come back, I didn't like her much, as a person or a parent. However, try as she might, the old Alice just can't help the fact that the young Alice has snuck back into her consciousness, and the impact of her experience can't help but change everything. It's as if, from this strange perspective of having been able to look into her own future, she can suddenly see more clearly what she wants from her life, as if she had never really understood anything, but she now can see what really matters. You watch her clinging to the good memories and allowing them to help her see past all the negative stuff to what was strong about her relationship with Nick. In losing her memory she found herself, and her family, and pulled them all back together. It is like some kind of slightly clumsy metaphor but it reduced me to tears. It sparked such intense feelings of loss; that no matter how hard you work to create something new you cannot replace or repair a family that has been broken. That when you have gone through all the anger and bitterness all that is left is sadness. I feel as if I have years of memories that are lost because I cannot bear to remember them without regret, and I know that neat happy endings only happen in books.


  1. oh Martine, that is such a moving comment at the end of your review, and such an accurate observation about happy endings.
    The selective nature of memory really interests me, the narratives we create for ourselves.
    (and btw, what's the coincidence about Liane Moriarty's name?)

  2. Because of Dean Moriarty in On The Road, just seems like it's not a very common name:-)
    much love

  3. oh yes, I completely missed that, but of course! Thanks! x


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