Title: Still Alice
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
First Publication: self-published in 2007; published by Simon & Schuster in 2009
Major Characters: Alice Howland, Lydia Howland, John Howland, Anna Howland, Tom Howland, Tamara Moyer, Dr. Davis
Setting Place: Boston, Massachusetts; Stanford University
Theme: Ambition and Success, Loss of Identity, Illness, Marriage, and Family, Alzheimer’s, Quality of Life, and Happiness
Narrator: Third person
Book Summary: Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what’s it’s like to literally lose your mind.
Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Alice is 50, a respected Professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard University, extremely happily married and a much loved mother. Dr. Alice Howland loves her job at Harvard University, she loves to run and travel, and she loves her husband and her three grown children.
We join her as she starts to get a little forgetful, nothing too serious – she loses things and occasionally words “are on the tip of her tongue” but then she gets lost just around the corner from home. One day when she goes out for a run, she becomes confused and panicky after she doesn’t recognize the street she’s running on, even though she’s lived in that area of downtown Boston for many years. Alice becomes fearful that something is medically wrong with her.
We then follow Alice through the diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimers Disease and the impact it slowly has on her, her career and her family as bit by bit her mind starts to unravel.
“Be creative, be useful, be practical, be generous and finish big”
Still Alice by Lisa Genova is not a sugar coated story, Alice has a very cruel unforgiving illness and the outlook is bleak. I found her story extremely powerful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Alice is so “real” that I could really believe in her character, it almost read like a biography at times. The writing is exquisite as we see everything through Alice’s eyes, with her confusions becoming more and more frequent. There are a couple of short chapters towards the end of the story that really made me well up, as I realised that we had reached a point where Alice wasn’t remembering her family at all.
“The mother in her believed that the love she had for her daughter was safe from the mayhem of her mind, because it lived in her heart.”
There is a lot of medical talk in Still Alice by Lisa Genova, as you would expect. I cannot comment on how realistic the timescale of her diagnosis was or how effective the drugs she was prescribed would be, but the actual story, of the impact of this horrible illness on Alice and her family is one that will stay with me for a long time.
I have recently watched the film adaptation of the book and I think Julianne Moore did a brilliant job portraying Alice (she won an Oscar for it, rightfully so). And I also felt the movie stayed faithful to the novel. Of course there was some small changes but nothing that really bothered me. The novel is full of emotion. I loved the way Lisa Genova described a delicate and yet honest account of a woman who loses everything she has worked for to a cruel disease. This is a tearjerker, but it’s not melodramatic or schmaltzy.