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Neuroscience in Fiction: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Ed. note: A previous version of this post appeared on Sleights of Mind.

Everything she did and love, everything she was, required language.”
Lisa Genova, Still Alice

Harvard-trained neuroscientist and author Lisa Genova couldn’t get agents or publishers interested in her debut novel Still Alice. So she decided to self-publish. The book became an overnight sensation that led to a six-figure advance from publishing house Simon and Shuster.

Still Alice describes the descent of Alice, a successful professor and researcher, into early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and the consequences for her family and career.

Genova followed up her Still Alice success with two more novels grounded in clinical neuroscience: Left Neglected, about a patient suffering from hemineglect, and most recently, Love Anthony, about a child with autism (I haven’t read it yet).

Both Still Alice and Left Neglected are moving and well-written stories, but if I had to choose I’d go for the more restrained tone of Still Alice. As a fellow academic, I also found the protagonist very relatable. (Full disclosure: in one of the most poignant moments in the book, Alice forgets a critical piece of electronics inside the fridge, with vital consequences… well, I’ve done the same exact thing at least once, although with far less momentous results).

For extra credit, read “Elegy for Iris”, literary critic John Bayley’s memoir about his wife, novelist Iris Murdoch, and her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Or watch the Oscar-winning movie “Iris”.

Also, check out the Society for Neuroscience’s primer about Alzheimer’s disease.

Susana Martinez-Conde About the Author: Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik are laboratory directors at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Follow on Twitter @illusionchasers.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. CogSciLibrarian 8:43 pm 04/21/2013

    I’m a big reader of fiction, and a fan of cognitive science, so I enjoyed both novels. I particularly appreciated Genova’s description of the feelings of people with both Alzheimer’s and hemineglect — they humanized each condition. I do wish the fiction writing was a bit better, but I think both books have great value. I’m looking forward to reading _Love Anthony_.

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