A strong memory flew back into my mind as I was reading the closing pages of this new novel. The image of a hugely incapacitated lady being hand fed soup rather unsuccessfully by I presume her daughter, around four years ago, in the half way house where my father spent a few weeks before being definitively transferred to a care home for the time that was left to him.
It’s a very very humbling thing, to quietly watch people suffer so greatly in this kind of environment. And the particular disease that Lisa Genova now depicts has to be one of the cruellest of our generation.
Neurodegenerative, genetically-transmitted Huntington’s Disease takes you out inexorably, and not only is it a killer to be diagnosed with this incurable illness, but there is a 50% chance that any children you have may be struck down too.
In this book, it comes over quite strongly that the author of “Still Alice” moves away from Alzheimer’s in this latest fictional account of an all too real life situation in order to highlight a much less well known malady, which is every bit as tragic and yet which benefits from less resources and research to help find a preventative cure for its patients. Lisa Genova is a scientist at heart, and in her acknowledgements at the end of the book it is clear that she undertook this latest study with total determination: she thanks the numerous families affected by the disease she met with, along with her consultations with health-care specialists, police officers, yoga teachers (she completed 200 hours of yoga teacher training during the writing of the book, hats off) and ballet dancers who help render the family she chooses to depict as all the more credible.
And the O’Briens are utterly credible – moving on from Alice, whom we followed side by side and step by step, we are now introduced to a whole family – Joe, the reliable Boston cop, Rose, his indefatigable yet only human spouse, their offspring and the potential and imminent children appearing further down the family tree, even Joe’s deceased mother who turns out not to have been the local soak he had grown up believing. This technique enables us as readers to witness the horrors of his diagnosis and the outlying consequences through the eyes of the whole family, “inside” their dilemmas, as it were.
At the risk of sounding crusty, I did feel less captivated by this read as a read, and I suspect this has more to do with the fact that L.G’s writing risks becoming a little formulaic over time, à la Jodi Picoult. Yet I believe this is an important book, with an important message, and feel sure it will resonate with many, and hopefully there will be a strong response to her call to action for donations to help find yet another miracle cure. There is much to admire about this woman’s drive to build awareness and make a difference in this brave new world. Lisa Genova, I salute you.
Read in May 2015.
Rating : 9/10