Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review - Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Title: Still Alice (Amazon)
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Release Date: 2007
Pages: 292
Genre: Adult Fiction
Source: Library

This may be one of the most frightening novels you'll ever read. It's certainly one of the most unforgettable. Genova's debut revolves around Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children. One day, Alice sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. It's a route she has taken for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Is her forgetfulness the result of menopausal symptoms? A ministroke? A neurological cancer? After a few doctors' appointments and medical tests, Alice has her diagnosis, and it's a shocker -- she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

What follows is the story of Alice's slow but inevitable loss of memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book,
or to recall information she heard just moments before. To Genova's great credit, readers learn of the progression of Alice's disease through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so they feel what she feels -- a slowly building terror.

Kim’s Take: Absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying. I’ve always heard about the tragedy of Alzheimer’s on its victims and their loved ones but have never had such a close look at a first-person account. The thought of slowly losing your mind is horrifying enough without knowing beforehand what is coming for you. And that’s exactly what happens with Alice.

When Alice starts having trouble, forgetting where she lives and completely missing flights to important conferences, she knows something is going on. She assumes it has something to do with menopause but soon finds out that this is not the case. She has early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 50.

And if anyone can put up a fight, it’s Alice. She is an extremely gifted and loved Harvard professor dealing in cognitive psychology and linguistics. She tries to hang on to her regular daily life as long as she can. And she has a back up plan for when things get too bad. She makes a list of five questions to answer. If the day comes when she is unable to answer them, there are instructions for her to follow. But Alice does not realize how bad things will get and that by the time she can no longer answer the questions, she will be unable to even follow simple instructions.

Reading Alice’s view of what she was going through and thinking was just so sad. And the different ways her children and husband choose to handle her and her illness, causes conflicts. I think the most terrifying thing about the book is the possibility that this could happen to anyone and there is no cure.

Though it is sad, I think it’s a very important read to help people understand what the victim is going through, ways we may help, and the hardships and grief suffered by the family when dealing with the death of someone they knew who is actually still alive. The story has stuck with me for quite a while and I will certainly never forget it.

Kim’s Rating


  1. This has been on my wishlist for awhile now and I think it does sound frightening, but definitely a worthwhile read. I've always been interested in psychology and how the mind works, so I love learning more about these things through my reading. If you found this interesting, you might want to check out The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. It's a non-fiction collection of short stories about various patients over the years that had brain injuries or rare disorders. I found it extremely interesting, but there are quite a lot of footnotes since it was written by a doctor. I'd still recommend it though! It's one of my favorite books ever. Great review and thanks for renewing my interest in this one. :)

    -Sandra from http://sandrathenookworm.blogspot.com

  2. I've read a few great reviews of this book. I'm just so afraid of this disease -- I don't know if I can read it. But I probably should. I'm going to have to make myself go get this one.


  3. Before I had kids I worked in the Alzheimer's unit of a nursing home... It is heartbreaking, for the families and the patients. They go through the seven stages of grief... It's so sad.

  4. It does sound heartbreaking, I took care of my elderly grandmother and now I still hang out with my multiple-stroke survivor aunt, and I know it's not the same condition, but the fear is very similar - the confusion and frustration of the patient - and it scared me as a kid, and it still does.

    Still, I had never heard of a book about it - a fiction book, I mean. I think will give it a go.

  5. The summary and your review almost had me in tears. I have a really rare Central Nervous System disease that is incredibly painful and debilitating; it's also branched off on to other diseases.
    My point is that the medications and the pain made my memory horrible, like not be able to remember what I said or what others said 5 minutes later horrible. I can't tell you how awful it is/was. It's one thing to suffer but to also feel like you're losing your mind when that was something that was so keen in the past is just another blow. Watching my family watch me go through this was yet another heartbreak for me. I stopped caring about me and focused on them. The agony was acute, I can tell you. Watching my loved ones worry every time I asked the same questions over and over on top of their worry as my body would contort in postions that were so un-natural and painful just made the emotional pain almost as great as the physical pain.

    Things are better at this time, there's no cure but better medications that have fewer side effects but memory loss is still a problem, all I can say is thank God for sticky notes and planners :o] Book Blogging and reading has saved my life, I've always loved reading and could whip through a book and remember everything about it since I was a little girl. I'm still pretty good at that but remembering the smaller details is still a problem, again, I have ways of remembering the smaller things I might forget :o]

    I feel keenly for anyone with early onset Alzheimer's particularily those at an early age. To feel your mind slipping and know there isn't anything you can do about it must be an awful feeling and Alice, having a back-up plan that failed her sounds terribly sad.
    The family involvement and their reactions can only be heartbreaking. To watch someone you love disappear, to become someone you don't know anymore is a horrible experience.

    I'd love to read this book. I'm sorry I shared so much about myself, I didn't mean to make this post 'all about Kristi' but I think a lot of what I went through is a bit similar only I have a better prognosis and for that, I am blessed.
    I just understand that helpless feeling of losing your memory. I had spans of a few months when my disease was at it's worse where I don't remember much and I feel like chunks of my life have been taken away from me, never to be lived again. That's something I can never get back.

    So, that being said, Thank-you for posting such a wonderful book and review and I WILL be reading it :o]

    Kristi-The Book Faery

  6. You're right, it was an heartbreaking and terrifying story, and like it did for you, this story stuck with me. It's more than a year after I read it and I still recommend it every chance I get. What a powerful book!

  7. Great review! I loved this book as well. Alzheimer's is such a terrible disease and I don't think their are enough good books about the topic and it's so important to raise awareness about it. My father had Alzheimer's and passed away last year and my mom has it now. The book I think did a great job conveying what happens to a person with Alzheimer's (although everyone is different). The only thing I wish she had done in the book was follow her through the later stages of the disease which are the most horrific, and usually are never discussed.