Synopses & Reviews
Five years ago, Andrea Gillies— writer, wife, and mother of three—seeing that her husband's parents were struggling to cope, invited them to move in. She and her newly extended family relocated to a big Victorian house on a remote, windswept peninsula in the far north of Scotland, leaving behind their friends and all that was familiar; hoping to find a new life, and new inspiration for work.
Her mother-in-law Nancy was in the middle stages of Alzheimer's Disease, and Keeper charts her journey into dementia, its impact on her personality and her family, and the author's researches into what dementia is. As the grip of her disease tightens, Nancy's grasp on everything we think of as ordinary unravels before our eyes. Diary entries and accounts of conversations with Nancy track the slow unravelling. The journey is marked by frustration, isolation, exhaustion, and unexpected black comedy. For the author, who knew little about dementia at the outset, the learning curve was steeper than she could have imagined. The most pernicious quality of Alzheimer’s, Gillies suggests, is that the loss of memory is, in effect, the loss of one’s self, and Alzheimer’s, because it robs us of our intrinsic self-knowledge, our ability to connect with others, and our capacity for self-expression, is perhaps the most terrible and most dehumanizing illness. Moreover, as Gillies reminds us, the effects of Alzheimer’s are far-reaching, impacting the lives of caregivers and their loved ones in every way imaginable.
Keeper is a fiercely honest “glimpse into the dementia abyss”—an endlessly engrossing meditation on memory and the mind, on family, and on a society that is largely indifferent to the far-reaching ravages of this baffling disease.
"In her forthright, smartly researched, and warmly recounted chronicle of her troubled two years taking care of her mother-in-law in the throes of dementia, British journalist Gillies reveals the 'dehumanizing' toll of the disease on the whole family. Gillies, her husband, and three children moved to a rambling Victorian house in the wilds of a Scottish peninsula and took in Chris's parents, Edinburgh residents who had been showing signs of needing increasing care: irascible Morris had 'bad legs,' while his strong-willed wife, Nancy, at 79, was spiraling deeper into Alzheimer's. As Nancy's memory deteriorated the entire family unit began to collapse under the strain of constant caretaking. Gillies writes with a novelist's eye for detail, and her unflinching rendering of Nancy's excruciating loss of self is skillfully and tenderly drawn. As well, Gillies has delved vigorously into the research, offering the received wisdom on Alzheimer's, which dictates that acceptance and distraction are the most helpful methods to deal with sufferers ('Make Alzheimer's fun, they exhort'). Moreover, her memoir is an invaluable resource on the stages of Alzheimer's, history, drugs, brain function, care-giving options, even literary works. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Winner of the 2009 Wellcome Trust Book Prize in Britain, this searing memoir explores the author's challenges as the full-time caretaker of her mother-in-law, who moves in with the family after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
About the Author
ANDREA GILLIES is a writer and journalist. Keeper won the 2009 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, the United Kingdom's pre-eminent popular science writing award, and the 2010 Orwell Prize. She lives with her family in St. Andrews, Scotland, and has just completed her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
Here are some questions that seem obvious to me, as the author of the book. They're the questions I ask myself, now that I read it again, given the benefit of some distance from the events described.
My best to you,
1. 1. Did Andrea and Chris have any real choice when they offered to take Nancy and Morris into their home? Where would another choice have led the family as a whole?
2. On what basis does the author rationalize the choice she's made to care for Nancy herself? Is her reasoning sound, or based on idealism and ignorance?
3. To what extent does the romantic setting - the landscape surrounding the house, and the beauty of the house itself – become metaphorical and emblematic of the progress of the story?
4. How do Nancy's and the author's 'journeys' (in terms of mood and state of mind) come to mirror one another?
5. Why do the other characters, particularly the author's husband and children, play so small a part in the book?
6. What's Morris's role in the deterioration of Nancy's dementia?
7. What's the turning point in the story, and why? When does it become clear that the experiment isn't going to work?
8. How successful is the author in explaining how a disease can affect a personality? Were you convinced that, as the author comes to believe, memory is the same thing as identity, and that 'self' is a biological entity?
9. Can the author's getting aggressive and indifferent with Nancy be justified? And if so, how?
10. At the end of the book, when change comes, do Andrea and Chris make the right decision for Morris and Nancy? Should they have taken this course of action at the beginning?