The third in my contemporary reading fest and I'm going to issue a health warning with this book and perhaps I shouldn't but I think it's only fair.
Be prepared to feel slightly unnerved by it in the first instance but completion is rewarded in manifold ways.
Working in a doctor's surgery you build an immunity to thinking you've got every illness that you hear discussed at coffee time. In they come, GP's hot-foot out of the consulting room to tell you about a patient who's been in with symptoms a,b and c and the doctor thinks they might have disease x,y or z. Gradually you learn to ignore it, but for while you have yourself diagnosed with everything by lunchtime and you're terminal by tea time.
So I was able to read The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block in a reasonably objective way. That's not usually how I read at all, I love a good subjective wallow but I sensed it might be risky on a book about early onset Alzheimer's disease.
Suddenly remembering (good sign) that I'd lost my Fiesta recently (bad sign) or that suddenly I lose the track of a conversation...what was it I'd started to say and why was I saying it..could all be very unnerving in Stefan's scheme of things. I put it down to that certain age-ness and like most people holding an awful lot in my memory at any one time, which all takes up the valuable space now required for remembering where I've parked my car.
But having issued the health warning I now have to say this is one very remarkable book especially given that its author is a mere snip of a young twenty-something and this is his first novel. Find some of the background here.
As fifteen year old Seth Waller begins to investigate his mother's slowly disintegrating memory he unearths family connections and a fable that has resonated through his own life and been handed down through the generations. The land of Isidora, a 'fantastical land free from the sorrows of memory' and a story that his mother has told him since childhood.
Slowly Seth pieces together the jigsaw and makes sense of what has gone before as themes of genetics, inheritance and memory blend with the realities of people's lives in a book that eventually raises the spirits and lifts the world of memory loss onto a new and beautifully delineated plain. Somehow Stefan turns it into a far less fearful place to be and gives renewed meaning to lives so often discarded as spent once Alzheimer's has set in. In many ways it is a book which removes the terror and replaces that with something completely natural and acceptable. He writes with a heartfelt intuition for his subject and with a sensitivity and depth of understanding that somehow belies his age.
It is in the end a profoundly moving book, one which has taken the US by storm and I also hope that my health warning has equipped rather than deterred, because it's a book that deserves to be read and probably put onto medical school
syllabuses (or is that syllabi?) reading lists.
Watch out for Stefan Merrill Block, he is a writer who promises much, a name to remember, in fact I've written it down.