Kindle Edition, (Reprint) 496 pages
Published: June 2, 2011 by Berkley (1st published 2009)
Setting: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and the passage of time. I have a recurring dream in which I’m somewhere in my teens or early twenties mulling over the future, which is still gloriously unformed. As I’m waking up, I realize I’m actually a bit older than I’d thought. Probably well into my twenties. No thirty. Actually… I’m… forty. Umm… forty… Wait. No way. Forty-f**king-nine?
I often feel disoriented for a while after waking up. It isn’t exactly distressing, but it’s jarring and unsettling. It’s a bit as if I am still a kid, on the cusp of adulthood, and my older self was foisted on me while I was looking the other way.
Who am I and how did I get here?
This is one of myriad themes in What Alice Forgot that resonated deeply with me. On the verge of thirty, Alice Love is just settling into her adult responsibilities. She’s deliriously in love with her husband, Nick, and they are renovating a house together and awaiting the birth of their first child. It seems that her whole life is on the horizon.
Alice falls off her bike during a spinning class and hits her head. In the hospital she’s horrified to learn that it’s no longer 1998. It is 2008. She is a highly driven mother of three, and she and Nick are in the throes of a contentious divorce. How did she lose ten years of her life? And how could she and Nick have lost each other?
As she tries to unravel her lost memories — and retrieve the precious experiences she has lost, including her children’s births and early years — she has to face memories of unbearable grief.
I discovered this author when Mario recommended Big Little Lies. Liane Moriarty has a distinctive style and approach. Each novel feels deceptively light and frothy, a charming, cozy story about people who are quite comfortably middle class but otherwise distinguished only by their sheer ordinariness. Then the story progressively goes deeper, revealing the characters and gradually exposing secrets. It delves into some of the complexities of relationships, parenthood, grief, regret, and the question of who we are when we set aside our masks. And there are always a few surprises.
Three threads comprise What Alice Forgot. One is told from Alice’s point of view. The other two are epistolary stories from the perspectives of Alice’s sister, Elisabeth, and their grandmother, Frannie. Their letters give us additional glimpses of these three women’s interconnected lives as Alice’s memories gradually surface.
Amnesia is an overused device in books and film, but it can be effective if it explores the theme of memory in interesting ways. This is a topic that endlessly fascinates me. Look at some of my favorite movies and books, including Memento, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the young adult novel The Giver by Lois Lowry.
So I reveled in the questions posed by this novel. To what degree is the person you are determined by your memories? To what extent do you and another person recall the same events differently? How does this affect your relationship? How do our shared memories bring us together or tear us apart?
This novel is deftly written and delightfully readable with some truly gorgeous passages. It is populated by lifelike three-dimensional characters grappling with painful issues including grief, infertility, and divorce. But it never loses its charm and its warm, engaging style.