Book reviews Critiques littéraires Books recently published in english and french.

vendredi 4 février 2011

Lisa Genova, Still Alice, Pocket books, 2009

This the tale of a female Harvard Professor of cognitive Psychology who gets Alzheimer desease at age 50 , which is early. This unfortunate woman has to face the loss of her professional stature and work, the loss of her mind and memory and basically the loss of her identity.. It is perfectly awful , an unrelieved punishment as a decline and we see that her immediate family is as starkly hit as she is herself.This is meant to be an exemplary book, but I have qualms about this.
Now the beginning of the illness takes place when the patient is completely conscious and sees herself forget, become confused and lost in a shameful way to her own eyes; she is horrified and disbelieving at first . Soon, she does not dare to teach any more or even go to any academic conferences because she does not trust herself and her reactions. Mostly she is confined at home and has nothing to do except reading, which becomes increasingly difficult ( the letters move and jingle about } or make some physical activity which must be supervised since she can cause damages to herself or others in no time at all.For example, getting out of moving cars, leaving the gas stove on, losing keys, messing up computers or cell phones etc... are common occurences as if a 2 year old was alone in the house. The husband becomes inevitably exasperated and stays later in the office every day, the grown kids are horrified and protective but have their own life to run, and pretty soon the patient does not recognize any one clearly and lives in a merciful groups can assist a little bit in every day life, but must be accompanied also.
What is one to do in a situation like that ? The author maintains that Alice remains herself throughout till the end of the process, although we do mot witness the death of the patient; we see however that Alice has become by now entirely passive ,almost a vegetable and does not live any kind of active life. She refers to her husband as "the man" and her daughter Anne as " the Mother " in her confused interior monologues.. poor thing, and she smiles idiotically . The illness makes the autonomous individual disappear and nothing is more terrible than that stage . Alice is being transported forom one place to the other, fed and clothed as if she were an object and (this is terrifying) does not seem to mind...She smiles, she does not suffer any more, she is even probably happy...
The reader as a witness , is awe- struck and revolted at the same time : why live another 10 years in that condition , under the compassionate and tired eyes of the poor suffering family ? It should be possible to give such patients , if they express the wish, a magical pill to go to sleep and die peacefully.No one wants to be such a pathetic burden to their loved ones.
Pascal says it forcefully : Man is a thinking animal, it is his only attribute really. Others who used to love you as a well person can often start to secretely hate you out of sheer exhaustion when faced with an endless illness and unredeemed dumbness. Alice has become a dumb woman, that is the worst, because her brain is gone.

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Née à Bruxelles, mère résistante et sculpteur, père homme d’affaires, études à l ’Université libre de Bruxelles ( Philosophie et Lettres ; arts primitifs), puis à Harvard ( anthropologie), Rutgers New Brunswick, Duke University .N.C. USA ( littérature comparée, Masters et Doctorat.) Thèse publiée (Ph.D) sur Valéry et Mallarmé. Enseignement universitaire aux USA, en France (Aix en Provence) et au Liban (comme coopérant) ,littérature et philosophie , en français ou anglais. Mariée en premières noces à un avocat américain G.Robert Wills et puis à un peintre et publiciste Français, Jean- Pierre Rhein (décédé). La plupart des publications sous le nom de Wills.Vit à Bruxelles.