Warning, this column will contain spoilers about the plot of Still Alice by Lisa Genova – and I recommend you read it first (really, I insist).
Lisa Genova published the bestseller Still Alice back in 2007 and only last year the movie came out in cinemas. Although I could talk for ages about Kristen Stewart’s terrible acting in the film yet how it still portrayed all of the emotions it should’ve, we’re here to talk about the novel where the story began.
These days we live in a world where fighting cancer is almost common, and more and more preventative and curable treatments for all sorts of previously terminal illnesses are being discovered. That can makes us feel immune to death, especially in our youth, which although can be comforting, is completely destructive. If we feel immortal, we don’t feel the necessary pressures of life to be ourselves and discover our dreams. Therefore, it was incredibly disappointing that at the end of the novel Alice didn’t die. The Alzheimer’s symptoms went on and on and on, Lisa Genova fully demonstrated the tragic slow nature of this degenerative disease, however, the final chapter felt too open-ended. Death would have been the obvious conclusion, but that’s because without it the novel falls short of the final punch – that Alzheimer’s will steal your memories, and eventually your life too.
As well as being completely heart-wrenching, Still Alice is an inspiring story that left me motivated to maximise the full potential of my life because, as the novel shows, life is too short and, all too soon and unsuspectingly, it can be taken away from us. Alice’s academic achievements and her career at Harvard University illustrate the limitless possibilities of education, but also how futile they can be. As Alice’s memory worsens, all of her life’s work slips away from her and as a reader you get a sense of the feelings of helplessness Alice suffers. By following Alice’s journey as a reader, you realise that you have to do exactly what you want in life. Alice often claims to have no regrets as she thrived from her academic career and you can only imagine how she would have felt if she despised her job.
Lisa Genova’s dedicated research and accurate writing fuel the novel’s message. The relationships between Alice and her children: Anna, Tom and Lydia, are utterly believable. The adult children react to Alice’s disease with shock, tears, self-interest and torn beliefs on how to move forward; encapsulating aspects of how every family would react and bringing the story close to home. I, and I suspect many others did the same, found myself applying the situations in the novel to my personal life which allowed me to further grasp the emotions Alice and her family experienced. My only complaint would be that Alice seemingly had no close friends and so that type of emotional response was overlooked.
Most significantly, Still Alice demonstrates just how inspiring books can be. When you’re faced with mortality, suddenly you’re able to realise exactly what you need to do in this world and that is truly a gift.
Jessikah Hope Stenson