Gerrard, coauthor with Sean French of the thrillers published under the pseudonym Nicci French, takes on dementia in this vivid combination of memoir and investigative journalism. Moved to write about the condition by her father’s decline into dementia, she interweaves her memories of him with the stories of other affected people—family members and caregivers as well as patients, and insights from doctors and researchers. The book traces the arc of the condition, from early chapters on facing up to and diagnosing it in its many forms—Alzheimer’s being just the best-known—to a section on optimizing quality of life, to a discussion of care options in the advanced stages. Yes, she acknowledges, dementia is a terminal condition, the “sniper in the garden” and a “sneaky intruder in the house,” but there are ways to live with it, and even live well. The arts, in particular, “support longer lives better lived,” as Gerrard finds at the hospitals and homes now incorporating them. She, herself, after her father’s death, launched John’s Campaign to gain caregivers the right to stay with dementia patients in the hospital, just as parents do with their children. With dementia now afflicting one in six people over 80, Gerrard’s informative and thought-provoking book is pertinent to all. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Aug.)
A tender, inquisitive tour of a subject that can be raw and painful.” —John Williams, The New York Times
“A beautifully written, thoughtful look at dementia, it explores what might be the best, most humane way to treat people as their dementia advances—a crucial question in an era when about 1 out of 6 people over 80 get the condition . . . Gerrard, a British journalist and novelist whose father had dementia, offers particular empathy for family caregivers, who often find themselves with a deep sense of loss as their loved one's selfhood seems to slip away.” —AARP
“[A] vivid combination of memoir and investigative journalism…With dementia now afflicting one in six people over 80, Gerrard’s informative and thought-provoking book is pertinent to all.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Revelatory and moving… carr[ies] both an emotional and a philosophical charge… A beacon of a book amid a sea of darkness.”—Kirkus, starred review
“[Gerrard’s] powerful and beautifully written book takes the reader on a poignant voyage.”—The Guardian
"Immensely powerful . . . an incisive and compelling read . . . [Gerrard] has an elegant yet devastating turn of phrase."—The Sunday Times
“Essential reading about love, life, and care”—Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth
“Nicci Gerrard exudes understanding of the breadth, scale and complexity of the dementias and the challenges they pose for society. Yet she communicates simply, personally and practically as if speaking individually to each of us”—Sebastian Crutch Professor of Neuropsychology, Dementia Research Centre, University College London
“Nicci Gerrard writes with power, insight, empathy and extraordinary beauty about the world of dementia . . . and demonstrates how we can address the fear, despair and ignorance that has accompanied its spread”—Paul Webster, editor of the Observer
“Gerrard ranges widely and wisely, raising questions about what it is to be human and facing truths too deep for tears”—Blake Morrison, author of And When Did You Last See Your Father?
“Evocative and powerful, shining a light on a world which is often hidden and misunderstood”—Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England
“Gerrard writes beautifully, encyclopedically, and with humanity”—Nicholas Timmins, honorary fellow of Royal College of Physicians
“Nobody has written on dementia as well as Nicci Gerrard in this new book. Kind, knowing and infinitely useful”—Andrew Marr
“This is a tender, lyrical, profound, urgent book . . . Gerrard has penned a treatise on what it is to be human”—Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Journalist and novelist (as Nicci French with Sean French) Gerrard describes how for ten years, her father, John, lived "mildly, sweetly, uncomplainingly" with dementia, though still "gradually disappearing, memories falling away, words going, recognition fading." Then, after a stay in the hospital for a physical problem, with his family able to be there only during strictly enforced visiting hours and hospital staff too overworked and poorly trained to help much, John came home "a ghost of himself, inarticulate, lost." In a few months, he was dead. Gerrard went on to learn about how other people with dementia were cared for and found a troubling lack of compassion in hospitals and nursing homes. In 2014, she cofounded John's Campaign UK, which advocates for the right of family members and other caregivers to stay with loved ones who are hospitalized for dementia. According to Gerrard, around 47 million people live with dementia throughout the world. Someone develops the disease every three seconds. They are our mothers, fathers, spouses, and friends. One day, they may well be us. VERDICT Among the many recent books on the subject of dementia, this is one is particularly moving, beautifully told, and an important addition to memoir and consumer health collections. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/19.]—Marcia G. Welsh, Dartmouth Coll. Lib., Hanover, NH
Memoir meets journalistic activism in this examination of dementia as an epidemic in an era of greater longevity.
Though award-winning British journalist Gerrard has published novels under her own name (The Twilight Hour, 2014, etc.), she has reached a wider readership as half of the husband-and-wife duo who write a mystery series as Nicci French. Fans and newcomers alike will find this memoir revelatory and moving, as the author recounts her experience with her late father's dementia, which inspired her to co-found the advocacy group John's Campaign. "To explore dementia's meaning and its excruciating losses," she writes, "is to think about how far we as a society and as individuals are responsible for the suffering of others: what we owe each other, what we care about, what matters in the world we all share. Who matters." The most personal parts of her inquiry carry both an emotional and a philosophical charge. As more people live longer, more will suffer from dementia, a disease that affects not only the patient, but friends and families, the medical profession, the economy, and society as a whole. She reaches beyond her own experience for interviews with others facing similar challenges. Though presenting each as a continuous case history, she weaves multiple threads throughout the narrative, along with expert testimony and statistical support. Some readers may find it difficult to keep the specifics straight as Gerrard switches among families dealing with the disease, but the range of experiences and perspectives remains illuminating. The more the author seems like a journalistic observer, taking notes from the sidelines, the flatter the tone, though the best writing is indelible: "When did my father's dementia begin? We don't know. We'll never be able to put a finger on the danger spot: there. Like fog that streaks up stealthily, imperceptibly, until the foghorn booms and suddenly there are dark shapes looming at you out of shrouded darkness—you think you'll notice it, but often you don't. Then you can't."
A beacon of a book amid a sea of darkness.