Audiobook review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova, narrated by the author

Still Alice
Lisa Genova

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I recently listened to Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a fictional account of a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The story begins with Alice Howland at the peak of her career. At fifty years old, she’s a renowned professor of psycholinguistics at Harvard University. She and her husband, John, a professor of biology, have spent their careers researching and teaching at Harvard. Despite some slight tension in their marriage over John’s lab schedule and a daughter who has skipped college to become an actress, everything is pretty good in the Howland family and with their two other adult children.

But then Alice starts forgetting things and gets lost after a jog, just minutes from her home. And worse lapses follow.

Alice and her family are stunned by the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The book looks at the disease from Alice’s point of view and chronicles her inevitable decline. Genova also shows how the family reacts. John’s denial and then his aggressive search for the best medicines and trials are a reflection of his scientific mind. Because her strain of the disease is genetic, their adult children grapple with the news and results of their own testing. The Howlands rally around Alice, but they also take inward paths. John is sometimes supportive and other times he escapes into his career. Their children are just beginning their adult lives, a period that’s meant for them, not a sick parent. Genova presents an interesting dynamic between the siblings and their parents and shows how they step up, and back, in different ways.

Alice copes in surprising ways. Her brilliant mind has enabled her to use creative work-arounds, a strategy that has likely covered up her disease before she was diagnosed. She offers surprising insight as she devises a private plan to measure and face her decline.

Genova outlines this heartbreaking scenario with detailed scientific explanations and provides many resources for patients and families who suffer with Alzheimer’s.

While I found the story compelling and important, I was disappointed in its telling. Genova presents her story awkwardly. It’s a third-person look into Alice’s mind, using a lot of plain dialogue and coupled with long and scientific explanations of the disease, reading more like an informational pamphlet than a novel. I wanted to learn more about the Howlands and felt these characters could have been better developed, a missed chance that could have made the story great. I was also sorry to have chosen the audiobook version. Genova’s narration was plain with little inflection, making the characters all sound the same. A professional narrator would have made a huge difference.

Still Alice was adapted to film in 2014 and stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parish. It was directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. The film won many awards and Moore won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

All-in-all, I’d recommend Still Alice to readers who want to know more about how Alzheimer’s affects its patients and their families, but I’d steer you to the print version.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

38 thoughts on “Audiobook review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova, narrated by the author

  1. I read this book several years ago, when my mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. It was a tough read, but this disease is tougher, especially on the caregiver. I would definitely recommend it to those touched by Alzheimer’s. Thanks for the review, Barbara.

    1. Hi Jill – I was thinking about you and your family while I was listening to it. Thank you for reading and commenting. My comments about the narration and storyline are completely separate from my feelings about those who are suffering from this diagnosis.

  2. This sounds so heartbreaking. You had me sold on reading it for a few paragraphs there, but then, nope. Ugh, sorry it kind of fell apart with the dialogue and over-explaining. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts!

    1. Hi Lorilin – I was drawn to this story – I wish I had read it instead. I think the movie is likely much better. It’s gotten a lot of attention because its message and information are so important and it was hard for me to be critical of it for that reason.

  3. I read the book years ago, as others have said, and saw the movie too. I remember snatches of the action, the main character running and running, knowing that she was losing her mind. I remember that awful, liminal state with my aunt: “My mind is going in reverse and I don’t know how to stop it,” she said. So sad!

    1. Hi Darlene, yes I wish I had read the book instead of listening to the audiobook. I feel like I would have had a different experience. Although I don’t think I’ll have a chance to read it now, I think I will watch the movie. Thank you for stopping by.

  4. I haven’t read the book but saw the movie. I found it quite powerful and Julianne Moore did well in the role, I thought. It definitely got me thinking about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

    1. Hi Lynette. I plan to watch the movie – I like Julianne Moore a lot. I haven’t seen Alec Baldwin in a serious role, so I’m interested to see. Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you are doing well. 🙂

  5. Hi, Barb – Thank you for sharing this excellent review with us. I haven’t read the book, but I did see the movie. Scared the heck out of me. If I ever become brave enough, I may read the book as well.

    1. Hi Donna – yes, it’s very frightening to think about and many patients and their families suffer. I’ve heard great things about the movie and look forward to watching it soon. Thank you for the visit!

  6. I saw the film many years ago and thought it excellent. Thanks for your review of the audio book Barbara, I can imagine from your review how so much of the richness and sadness of Alzheimer’s can be lost in a narration that is flat and lacking in tone.

    1. Hi Susan, thank you for stopping by. I mentioned in another comment that it was hard to be critical of a book that brings attention to such an important subject. It was mostly in the delivery and I think if I’d read it instead, I would have had a different reaction. I’m looking forward to watching the movie. Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you and your family are doing well.

  7. I saw the film made from this book and well… after my father died of Alzheimer’s, I can promise you that I wouldn’t be able to read this book – the film was too hard to watch as it was.

    1. Hi Davida – I can imagine how hard it must have been. My sympathies for the stuggles you and your family went through. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  8. Thanks for the great and thoughtful write-up, Barb! I read this in print and thought it was so moving. As with other books by this author, the details of the impact and the progression of the disease is the most interesting part for me. Her characterizations can sometimes be a bit week. The film was excellent and so moving. Have you read any of her other books? Left Neglected is absolutely fascinating — again, I wasn’t necessarily sold on the characters, but the condition as she described it made a lasting impression on me.

  9. I read this book for our book club a few years ago, and I did like it. (Another member of the club listened to it as well.) I do agree with the comment above in that I thought the main character was the one who was the best developed and the most interesting, but that is often true in books. Thanks for the great review of it, it reminded me that I probably need to re-read the book!

    1. Hi Ann, thanks for reading and commenting. I wish I had read the book instead of listening to it. I think I would have enjoyed it more. But the subject matter is very compelling and I appreciated the information.

  10. Barbara, a great review of a book I read a while ago. You highlight its strenghts brilliantly whilst hinting at some of the weaker elements in the storytelling. I wonder if there is a difference when reading the book compared to listening to it. I felt it offered incredble insight into the disease, the whole book felt factual to me. I was furious with the husband and his behaviour and the younger daughter who ‘stepped up’ was incredible in reaching through to her mother when so many couldn’t in the end.

    1. Hi Annika – I agree, I thought the daughter really pulled through and loved the way she connected with her mother. That was the best part of the story. The husband was definitely self-absorbed, but that is probably a realistic reaction for some. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  11. Hi, Barbara. Still Alice for me was one of those rare occasions where the movie exceeded the book. I read the book when it first came out because my mother had Alzheimer’s. But Julianne Moores’ performance was exceptional to me, so much so that I had to watch it again recently.

  12. I read the book and really liked it, even the more sciency-stuff. I was afraid to watch the movie because I didn’t think it’d live up to my expectations. It’s a difficult subject, and I think Genova handled it well.

    1. Hi Priscilla – I’ve heard the movie is excellent. I had a feeling that the print version would be much better than the audiobook. I wish I had chosen that. Despite that, I think it’s important to share information about Alzheimer’s and the author does a great job with that. Thanks for the visit 🙂

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