Book Review: The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Watching someone you love disappear through Alzheimer’s disease is utterly heartbreaking. Seeing my Nan’s deterioration over the last few years has been the hardest thing I’ve been through. It’s a cruel, slow, torturous illness. Although less common, it isn’t just an illness that affects the elderly, and Rowan Coleman bravely tackles the subject of early onset alzheimer’s in this moving and beautifully written book, from both the suffers point of view as well as her family and carers.

Claire is in her early forties when she discover’s she has early onset alzheimer’s. She’s all too aware of how it all ends, having witnessed her father go through the same thing at a very young age. When her councillor suggests she makes a memory book, it becomes something the whole family get involved in.

Claire’s story is heartbreakingly sad. It seems crueller still that she’ll be be deprived of those years where she’ll see her children grow, have grandchildren and enjoy more comfortable times with her husband. Through the stories told in The Memory Book we discover what a strong, intelligent woman she was. I loved the way this was done; giving us glimpses of her life through both her own and her families point of view really lets you see the person aside from the alzheimer’s.

Having seen the deterioration of a loved one first hand, I though Rowan Coleman got those early symptoms just right. I was particularly struck by Claire’s loss of words for everyday objects, such as the remote for the TV and phone. I remember first becoming concerned about my Gran when she described a tea bag as the square thing to make a drink. I also found Claire’s sometimes wandering commentary, how the conversation she was having to herself would change track in a heartbeat, poignant and very realistically done.

But what I really liked was how this book was told from all sides, Claire, her Mother, her Husband and her 20 year old daughter. I loved and recognised all the emotions involved, from anger to frustration, concern and at times humour. I sympathised and understood all of them. There’s a strong theme of motherhood in this book, which coming from a family with four generations of very close (and at times fraught) maternal relationships, really struck a chord for me.

The Memory Book is an emotional read. For me it reminded me that while my Gran can’t remember any more, the memories I have of our relationship are what helped to shape me and are still real. And I think that this is what the books about, both in the relationship she now has with her husband and the strength we see inherited by her daughter Caitlin. Rowan Coleman took a difficult subject and with sensitivity and care has made it work beautifully.

Published February 2014 by Ebury (UK)


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