Was she still or stilled?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This is a book defined by its title.

Like any book with the main protagonist’s name in the title, you’re immediately wondering about the character. Who is this Alice? Is the book only about her?  Given she’s an Alice you have to ask – is there a connection with Wonderland?  As the book is about memory and the brain; I guess the choice of the name Alice isn’t a coincidence?

Most readers will focus on the word “still”.  Talking about it with my book club, it’s clear that the notion of what defined Alice and whether she was still her and indeed would continue to be, was a strong theme.  Is she “Still Alice” and will she still be Alice as her illness progresses? Indeed what makes her Alice?  The question is what makes you, you.

However, that wasn’t the notion of “still” that I read into it. My introduction to Alice was to this hugely intelligent and intellectual personality. She was a person with a brain that whirred at a phenomenal rate, someone who was at the pinnacle of her academic career and still looking for more, a wife with an equally successful and intelligent husband and a mother pushing for the same success for her children. In fact she, her brain, her career, her life was anything but still. Her intellect pulsated on the page.

For me the book was about her journey from the frantic and intellectual life she led to a real stillness in her brain and self, and what that meant for her and her family. Having an aunt with a similar condition, what’s heart breaking is to witness the stillness descend. Of course, it’s a tragedy for anyone, but in Alice’s case it wasn’t just about a dynamic woman who lost her physcial dynamicness but also the loss of an extraordinary brain. Indeed Alice was stilled. And it was in parts chilling.

Ms Genova’s downloading of medical information was somewhat annoying but I could see it strengthened the story. I felt the irony, that whilst so much medically was going on in her brain as the illness progressed Alice became more and more stilled.

Medical stuff aside, it’s a book about relationships and choices. I found Alice and John’s relationship mostly baffling. Many will applaud the author for writing a book without sex in it, personally I found it odd. Neither character was easy to like, but it seemed easy to make excuses for John. I really questioned what was going on before Alice was diagnosed definitively. The comparison between their relationship which floundered with the illness and that with Lydia which seemed to blossom was powerful and intriguing.

But it’s the choices the characters make that had me thinking in their shoes. If you could cure cancer, should you give it up to care for a loved one? Would you take the test to predict your future? And at what point in your illness would you swallow your final pill?