Still Alice by Lisa Genova reviewed by Jill Smith
Alice Howland is a very busy Harvard University Professor. She travels often giving lectures around the world. She and her husband John have written a book. He loves her because of her sharp mind and wit. Two of her children have forged academic careers and are successful, her other daughter is a struggling actress whom she dearly wishes would take an academic course. Their lives are hectic yet fulfilling. At fifty Alice expects to continue her work and enjoying the results of all her efforts, what she doesn’t expect is to be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Apart from finding it hard to concentrate on writing her lectures she hadn’t noticed anything different. Her first great shock was getting lost only a few blocks from her home in the Harvard precinct, the area she knows and loves. How could she not remember how to get home?
Alice loathes admitting to her husband, much less her children, colleagues and friends that anything is wrong. When her doctor insists that she bring her brilliant husband John with her to her next appointment she does only to find his reaction confusing. John does not believe the diagnosis and sets about investigating other options and possible treatments.
Her confusion increases as her illness becomes more apparent. Will she one day not recognize her husband and children? Her life changes dramatically and quickly. Travelling alone to give lectures is now out of the question. Tasks she has done for years easily become onerous and difficult. John cries and has trouble coping with the loss of her brilliant mind.
Alice sets herself a daily test to ensure she can monitor her mental health with a plan to ensure she doesn’t become a burden to those around her. Her note to herself asks five simple questions, then states, ‘If you have trouble answering any of these, go to the file names ‘Butterfly’ on your computer and follow the instructions there immediately.’
Alice slides inevitably into non comprehension of events, places and people around her. John takes his career to the next level and her daughters take on the role of care givers.
This is a heart wrenching book. I cried and I wondered what it would be like to be a sufferer of early onset Alzheimer’s. No wonder they made it into a film.