The Reading Women Challenge : A Protagonist Older than 50

A big reason for taking up the Reading Women Challenge this year was to give myself some direction and structure when choosing my next read. We’re halfway through the year and while I’d have really loved to say that I have completed 50% of the prompts, sadly, I haven’t.

However, of the 7 prompts I have done so far, each one has been equally challenging and rewarding, owing to which I have found myself reading books and authors I hadn’t known of before.

June has been an especially interesting month as I have been able to complete 2 prompts – the first one being a Book with a Protagonist older than 50.

And so, it was Still Alice by Lisa Genova as my pick for this prompt.

Summary

‘Seriously, how do you hold all that information in your head?’

Dr. Alice Howland is a celebrated professor of linguistics at Harvard, who at the height of a very successful career, starts noticing a forgetfulness creeping into her.

What begins with being unable to recollect a specific word during a conference, soon progresses into prolonged phases of memory lapses, where Alice finds herself being unable to remember dinner reservations or even the way back home.

As her perfectly structured life starts spiralling into a state of utter confusion, Alice, at the age of 50 is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

What I loved?

Even the well-intentioned and educated tended to keep a fearful distance from the mentally ill’

I truly appreciated how Still Alice shines a light on the realities of mental illness and its effects not just on the one suffering from it but also their families, friends and colleagues.

Some of the stigma associated with it makes for very uncomfortable reading.

What I couldn’t agree with / what I disliked?

I found myself disagreeing with Alice constantly pushing Lydia, her youngest child, to follow a structured career path. Also, Alice delaying telling her employer about her diagnosis – bearing in mind she’s done an entire semester after her diagnosis. While her worry about being stigmatized at work due to her mental illness is valid, was it fair on her students and colleagues that she kept them in the dark?

Final Thoughts:

‘And she knew that someday, she’d look at her husband, her children, her colleagues, faces she’d known and loved forever, and she wouldn’t recognize them’.

What starts off as a fast-paced story with the perfectly timed plot twist, slowly matures into a heartfelt poignant tale of a woman who is struggling with her body failing her, and doing her best to retain her uniqueness.

We watch as Alice descends from a super successful independent woman into someone who struggles to phrase a simple sentence, and our hearts go out to her.

By writing Still Alice, Lisa Genova has managed to perfectly capture the fragility and uncertainty of life, and how it can reduce even the strongest of individuals into someone utterly helpless. It also emphasises the importance of early diagnosis of mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and the need to support rather than stigmatise those suffering from it.  

‘Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer’s? I believe it is’

P.S. Although the prompt says ‘older than 50’ I nevertheless chose ‘Still Alice’ (Alice is 50 in the book) as I found the story to be truly compelling.

This book was later adapted into a movie, for which Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her incredibly moving portrayal of Dr. Alice Howland.

Reading Women Challenge – Total Prompts Completed 6/24

  1. A book with a rural setting
  2. A book with a cover designed by a woman
  3. A fantasy novel by an Asian author
  4. A book by a Neurodivergent author
  5. Reread a favourite
  6. Protagonist older than 50

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