I read Still Alice over the course of two days while on vacation during my spring break from teaching. I know – not quite the beach read you’d expect. It felt a little awkward crying on the beach while everyone around me was enjoying the sun and sand, but it was worth it.
I appreciated the pacing – it was such a fast read, and I loved the perspective of the novel as well as some of the storytelling devices that Genova used to really show Alice’s view. Specifically, the repetition of chunks of texts, sometimes whole paragraphs – it really places the reader in Alice’s shoes. For example, at the lunch lecture, you feel through Alice the awareness that something is off, but experience the lack of awareness of what that is. Don’t get me wrong – it can be uncomfortable to have an understanding as the reader that the narrator does not have, but it was a very interesting, eye-opening, and in many ways necessary approach to telling the story of Alice. It’s interesting that Genova points out (via Dr. Davis) that Alice won’t always be reliable, and it’s her perspective that we read. It brings up the question, how much can we trust what we read?
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the book was the development of Alice and Lydia’s relationship. When I made notes to myself about what I wanted to say, I had written “Lydia’s development/growth,” but that’s not really it. What I loved was how Lydia and Alice were able to not just reconnect, but to, in many ways, form an entirely new relationship. Though Lydia seemed like the black sheep, she was the one most able to relate to Alice, and Alice seemed to find comfort in her ability to bond with Lydia while the disease was progressing. I loved that she always seemed to be on Alice’s side and didn’t treat her like a patient – she still treated her like a person.
The other device that Genova used was Alice’s questions. We got to see throughout the book how Alice went from being able to respond to the questions in detail to only being able to provide vague allusions to the correct answers. After she froze her Blackberry, we see nothing more of the questions until the scene with John. He begins to ask Alice the questions without telling her why or that she wrote them herself. Later, when she finds the butterfly folder and you learn of her intentions, I had my first feeling of sympathy and love for John. I think, or maybe I’d just like to believe, that he found the butterfly folder first, and when he realized that Alice couldn’t answer her questions, he made it impossible for her to follow through on her plan (which is why she couldn’t find the pills in her bedside table). If this is true, then it shows that John wasn’t ready to lose Alice, even though he was doing a poor job of showing it. After an entire book of feeling uncertain about John, his treatment of Alice, and his method of coping with her illness, it was a moment where I truly felt for him and where his love for Alice showed through.