In the annals of depressing books, Still Alice by Lisa Genova ranks pretty high up there. It’s about Alice, a fifty year-old cognitive science professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book tracks her first moments of memory loss and confusion and the inevitable, steady descent into dementia that follows in a shockingly short period of time. The book is told from Alice’s point of view, so the reader is able to understand, in horrific detail, the extent to which Alice loses her cognitive abilities, as well as her professional and personal identities. It is a sad, sad book.
But I am very glad I read it. Alzheimer’s is such a presence in our society, with so many lives affected by this disease, whether as sufferers or caregivers or family members. The author, Lisa Genova, is a neuroscientist, and she clearly shares Alice’s analytical, scientific mind. Her writing is clear and compelling, and she delivers a lot of information about the disease without compromising Still Alice‘s structure or flow as a novel.
I put off reading Still Alice for a long time. It has a penciled $3.50 price tag on the inside cover, so I must have picked it up at a used book sale somewhere. It has been sitting in my TBR pile – I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up. But I eventually did, and as I mentioned earlier, I am so grateful for having read it. This book will stay with me – haunt me, even – for a long time, which I think is the point. I now have a much better understanding of the experience of having Alzheimer’s – not just the stark facts about the disease.
I just checked Goodreads, and there are over 27,000 ratings of Still Alice, with an average rating of 4.23 stars (out of 5). I am clearly not alone in my admiration for this book.