The book Still Alice was first published in 2007, and has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 40 weeks. The book has been translated into 31 languages, has won a string of awards, and has been a popular choice on the book club circuit. Now as the hit movie is wowing audiences, and Julianne Moore has won the Oscar for her portrayal of the lead character Alice Howland, the book finally grabs my attention – takes a while sometimes I guess.
The subject matter is heavy, the impact of a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease to a brilliant Harvard professor who has just celebrated her 50th birthday. Hard to imagine the irony of a world-renowned linguistics expert and professor of cognitive psychology being struck by a disease that impairs thought and speech. We watch a woman, who defines herself by her accomplishments; try to come to terms with the prospect of loosing her beloved teaching role and thus the respect and accolades of her peers. Alice is also a wife and mother. The impact of her diagnosis, and subsequent mental and physical decline, brings out strong emotions from those closest to her.
This is Genova’s debut novel. As a neuroscientist, Genova uses her years of experience to portray a realistic path of early onset Alzheimer’s. When Alice starts to forget a word during a speech, misplaces her cellphone, and becomes disorientated while out for her regular run, she knows that something is wrong. Not just menopause, as is first suggested by her doctors. We follow Alice’s journey from disbelief, denial, and finally to one of acceptance.
I read the book and was moved by passages that resonated so with my own experiences. My father fell deeper into his own world as his dementia progressed until finally passing in 2013 while in a make believe world that we could only watch from afar. At one point Alice remarks that she wished she had cancer, as people know how to handle that diagnosis and are generally more compassionate and understanding. Sad, but true.
This book is an education for us all. Still Alice made my cry but also made my laugh at the humor that Alice tried to bring to her situation. I had violent tendencies towards the husband but my heart ached for Alice’s children. I recently watched the film on a flight back to the US and found myself sobbing in my seat (and again as I type this) as the story is so real. I recommend that you read the book first, then see the movie, as it is a story that we all need to understand. Julianne Moore was amazing in the lead role and so deserving of an Oscar, but the book shares so many of Alice’s thoughts that you really understand how she processes the diagnosis and chooses to live her life.
Please let me know what you think of this book and if you think the movie does the book justice?