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Sunday, February 1, 2015

'What Alice Forgot' by Liane Moriarty

From the BLURB:

When Alice Love surfaces from a strange dream to find she's been injured in a gym, her first concern is for her unborn baby. She's desperate to see her husband, Nick, who she knows will be worried about her.

But Alice isn't pregnant. And Nick isn't exactly rushing to her bedside. She is a mother of three going through a bitter divorce.

Alice has lost ten years of her life - and she wants them back.

‘What Alice Forgot’ was the 2009 novel from Australian author Liane Moriarty.

The first Liane Moriarty book I read was 'The Hypnotist's Love Story' in 2011, which I absolutely adored. I had always meant to go and read her backlist after that, but then in 2013 'The Husband's Secret' was released and quickly after that 'BigLittle Lies' cemented Moriarty’s newfound place on the NYT-bestseller list and heralded her as a fantastic new Aussie author export. At some point I decided to save up her three older books – ‘Three Wishes,’ ‘The Last Anniversary,’ and ‘What Alice Forgot,’ – a sort of book-rationing, if you will. But now that I’ve finally got round to Alice, I don’t know how I’ll stop myself from gorging on the other two.

‘What Alice Forgot’ reminds me a little of a favourite (short-lived) TV show from 2007 called ‘Samantha Who?’ which starred Christina Applegate as an amnesia-sufferer who wakes from a coma with no memories of her life, but a sudden realisation that she’s not a very nice person and hated by mostly everyone who knows her …  each episode saw Sam gaining back one of her memories, only to realise they further highlight what a bad person she was and reconciling to be a better person post-memory loss.

When Alice Love is knocked out during gym class she wakes up in 2008 – but the last memory she has is of being pregnant in 1998. She wakes to discover that her first pregnancy has turned into three children, the husband she adores is currently in the process of divorcing her and she’s drifted so far away from her younger sister that they may as well be living in different countries.

‘What Alice Forgot’ reads like a bit of a puzzle, as Alice (and readers) have to piece together her last ten years – almost like a ‘whodunit’ … why are she and husband Nick separating, who are her three children, how is her mother salsa-dancing, why does her sister look so defeated, what’s the mystery surrounding her dead best friend Gina and how exactly has Alice become such an “involved” individual over the course of ten years;

He smiled uncertainly. ‘The class mums arrange social events for all the other mothers, and communicate with the teachers, organise the reading roster and, ah, that sort of …’ 
Oh Lord. It sounded horrendous. She’d become one of those civic, involved type of people. She was probably really proud and smug; she’d always known she had a tendency towards smugness. She could just imagine herself, swanning about in her beautiful clothes.

Alice has three children under the age of ten, and her 2008-self is indeed heavily involved in school politics. It’s in this storyline that I could read the first kernels of ‘Big Little Lies’ coming out – her 2014 novel about the events surrounding the death of a parent at a primary school trivia night. Moriarty delves, ever so slightly, into the playground politics that affect parents more than children these days – the gossip and grapevine, the appearance of happy-families when secrets and scandals are lurking inside every lunchbox. It’s skimmed in this book, but I really loved thinking about how Moriarty took this beginning of an idea and developed it more fully (and sinisterly) in ‘BigLittle Lies.’

Running alongside Alice’s third-person story are the first-person therapeutic journal entries of her younger sister, Elisabeth who is slowly getting to the core of a recent meltdown. Elisabeth and her husband Ben have been trying for a baby for seven years – through miscarriages and IVF treatments, Elisabeth has become bitter and depressed and when her sister loses the last ten years of her life, it forced Elisabeth to examine how her own ten years have changed her into someone she doesn’t like very much. I loved Elisabeth’s story – it was heartbreaking and so brutally honest as she pours her heart out about being infertile and feeling like a failure as a woman. I actually would have loved more of Elisabeth’s story – it almost doesn’t make sense running alongside Alice’s, but the two do converge eventually (as all Moriarty’s storylines seem to do) but regardless, I would have loved to spend more time with Elisabeth.

Occasionally we also get blog-entries from Elisabeth and Alice’s grandmother Frannie – these are funny asides that don’t take up a lot of page-time (thankfully) but I did end up barely skim-reading towards the end.

The ending also felt a little bit rushed to me – I would have liked to spend a little more time with Alice and Elisabeth especially (at least ten more chapters, actually). I think it would have been interesting to dissect the aftermath as much as anything else.

I understand that ‘What Alice Forgot’ is in the movie-works (as is ‘The Husband’s Secret’, while ‘Big Little Lies’ has been optioned for a “limited series” penned by David E. Kelley and starring Nicole Kidman & Reese Witherspoon!!). Honestly, much as I love those other two Moriarty books, I think I’m going to look forward to the ‘What Alice Forgot’ adaptation most of all. It raises really interesting questions about family and fragility, motherhood and feminine ideals – the amnesia storyline sounds a little ham-fisted melodramatic, but with Moriarty’s formidable pen she really does turn it into an interesting examination of modern-day life and family.


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