by Andrea Gillies - £8.99 Short Books Ltd (2010)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781906021993 | ISBN 10: 1906021996
WINNER OF THE ORWELL PRIZE 2010
WINNER OF THE INAUGURAL WELLCOME PRIZE 2009
Can our personalities be taken away from us? Are memory and identity mutually dependent? What exactly is the soul?
Three years ago, Andrea Gillies, a writer and mother of three, took on the care of her mother-in-law Nancy, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. This newly extended family moved to a big Victorian house on a headland in the far, far north of Scotland, where the author failed to write a novel and Nancy, her disease accelerated by change, began to move out of the rational world and into dementia's alternative reality.
This book is a journal of life in this wild location, in which Gillies tracks Nancy's unravelling grasp on everything that we think of as ordinary, and interweaves her own brilliantly cogent investigations into the way Alzheimer's works. For the family at the centre of this drama, the learning curve was steeper and more interesting than anyone could have imagined.
"This is not another guide to be added to the depressing pile by the bedside for those who are confronting the decline of a relative. It is as much an exploration of memory, its loss and the subsequent erosion of personality, as a chronicle of the destructive chaos that the onset of Alzheimer's unleashes on the extended family... Somehow, despite the territory, Gillies manages to steer the book away from misery lit and beneath the profoundly bleak narrative runs a stream of grim humour. Most powerful, however, is Nancy's own voice, carefully recorded by Gillies in nightly diary entries, a voice that is at times cantankerous, bewildered and defiant. Reading these monologues, we get very close to understanding what it feels like to experience this illness... What makes this book so unexpected is the honesty with which Gillies records the catastrophic consequences of this well-intentioned act."
(Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian)
(Price & availability last checked: December 2018)