Review: The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

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Title: The Memory Book

Author: Rowan Coleman

Publisher: Ebury Press

Published: Jan 2014

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5

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Suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Claire struggles to stay independent and true to herself, despite not always knowing who she is or what she is doing.  Along with her family she starts a memory book of pictures and fragments of her life, knowing that soon this will be all her family has of her.  Her oldest daughter, Caitlin, has many problems of her own but Claire is determined to be there for her while she still can. Claire’s youngest daughter, Esther, only aged three, doesn’t understand why her mother can no longer read to her.  And Claire’s husband, Greg, is left watching the woman he loves as she grows further and further away from him.

I am very lucky in that so far in my life I haven’t had any true experience with Alzheimer’s, and honestly I don’t know how I would cope if someone I loved were to begin forgetting everything they are.  The Memory Book does not shy away from the harsh reality of what living with Alzheimer’s can do to a family, yet at the same time it is a heart-warming story of a loving family who all become closer because of their circumstances.

I have always been afraid of losing someone to Alzheimer’s, but reading this book has helped me to understand the disease more fully. I especially liked how most of the story was told from Claire’s point of view, meaning that the reader can know and feel the way she does.  For me, this humanised the view I had of Alzheimer’s, making it less of an abstract idea and more of a reality, but one that still included hope.  While I still hope never to have to experience this disease, I now feel that I would be able to survive it and I strongly recommend this book to anyone trying to deal with Alzheimer’s or those who want to understand it better.

The great thing about The Memory Book is that it is about a family, rather than about a disease.  Even though everything is obviously over clouded by Claire’s struggle, the struggle of her daughter, Caitlin, is no less important.  Between this and the memories each member of the family share, this book seemed to me to focus mainly on the mother daughter relationship – both between Claire and her daughters, and Claire and her mother.  Yet somehow Rowan Coleman somehow manages to weave love stories in amongst everything else.

The Memory Book is a complex look at a family in a time of difficulty, and its focus is always on the characters, rather than the situations they find themselves in.  I loved this book and will definitely be reading more by Rowan Coleman in the future. I would recommend this to anyone who wishes to read an uplifting tale of hope that includes a lot of unpalatable reality that no one can avoid completely.

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

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