2 March 2013

Review: TURN OF MIND, Alice LaPlante

  • Published by Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2011
  • ISBN 978-1-921758-42-3
  • 305 pages
  • Source: my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

A stunning first novel, both literary and thriller, about a retired orthopedic surgeon with dementia, Turn of Mind has already received worldwide attention. With unmatched patience and a pulsating intensity, Alice LaPlante brings us deep into a brilliant woman’s deteriorating mind, where the impossibility of recognizing reality can be both a blessing and a curse.

As the book opens, Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, who lived down the block, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed from her hand. Dr. White is the prime suspect and she herself doesn’t know whether she did it. Told in White’s own voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between these life-long friends—two proud, forceful women who were at times each other’s most formidable adversaries. As the investigation into the murder deepens and White’s relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify, a chilling question lingers: is White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss, Turn of Mind is a remarkable debut that examines the deception and frailty of memory and how it defines our very existence.

My Take

This is the second of two books chosen by my book group for our current read. (The other is BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson which I read last year.) Both books deal with memory loss but that is where the similarities really end.

Dr. Jennifer White is an a retired orthopaedic surgeon struck down by Alzheimer's at a relatively young age. The story is told primarily through a journal in which Jennifer and those who care for her or visit her record the events of the day. The other main "voice" is Jennifer's own mind as it reacts to the people who visit her, whom she doesn't always recognise, and the conversations that take place around her.

Through Jennifer's recollections of her adult life we are able to piece together details of her marriage to her husband James and their relationship with the couple, Amanda and Peter, who lived just 3 houses down.

From time to time Jennifer's world is peopled with family members and friends who have long "gone", and at times she thinks she is much younger, still working in a busy practice, while at others she is troubled by mistakes she made. The events in the journal make the reader aware of changes in Jennifer's circumstances as she is moved out of her home and into a care facility. Her children visit with motives not always driven by concern for her.

Through the persistence of Detective Luton who is investigating the death of Amanda the reader is eventually led to an understanding of what happened.

This is crime fiction because a murder appears to have taken place, but the focus of the story is less on the crime than on what has happened to Jennifer's mind, and on the deterioration still continuing. I suspect for many who have family members stricken with Alzheimer's it will come very close to the bone. The unusual structure of the novel is very effective.

My rating: 4.5

Other reviews to check


Marce said...

I look forward to reading this one, it has been on my Wishlist for awhile. I read Still Alice by Lisa Genova, an all time favourite and this one sounds similar but with crime attached.

Nice book club choice.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie- I'm glad you thought that structure was effective. I thought this was such an innovative story and quite harrowing in its way. And it's interesting how both the White family history and the real truth about the murder are woven through. For me anyway this was a 'stay with you' kind of book.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your review, but don't know if I can read this book, having seen my mother dealing with dementia for the last several years.


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