A Book about Memory, Identity, Isolation, Wordsworth and Cake

by Andrea Gillies



Can our personalities be taken away from us? Are memory and identity mutually dependent? What exactly is the soul?

Three years ago, Andrea Gillies, a writer and mother of three, took on the care of her mother-in-law Nancy, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This newly extended family moved to a big Victorian house on a headland in the far, far north of Scotland, where the author failed to write a novel and Nancy, her disease accelerated by change, began to move out of the rational world and into dementia’s alternative reality.

This book is a journal of life in this wild location, in which Gillies tracks Nancy’s unravelling grasp on everything that we think of as ordinary, and interweaves her own brilliantly cogent investigations into the way Alzheimer’s works. For the family at the centre of this drama, the learning curve was steeper and more interesting than anyone could have imagined.

“This is not another guide to be added to the depressing pile by the bedside for those who are confronting the decline of a relative. It is as much an exploration of memory, its loss and the subsequent erosion of personality, as a chronicle of the destructive chaos that the onset of Alzheimer’s unleashes on the extended family… Somehow, despite the territory, Gillies manages to steer the book away from misery lit and beneath the profoundly bleak narrative runs a stream of grim humour. Most powerful, however, is Nancy’s own voice, carefully recorded by Gillies in nightly diary entries, a voice that is at times cantankerous, bewildered and defiant. Reading these monologues, we get very close to understanding what it feels like to experience this illness… What makes this book so unexpected is the honesty with which Gillies records the catastrophic consequences of this well-intentioned act.”
Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian

“Gillies’ account mixes popular science with a gruellingly vivid anecdotal picture of a personality altering… this is a compulsively readable and culturally clued-up book, drawing lightly on Proust, Marcus Aurelius and Ravel.. a valuable exploration of a landscape we urgently need to understand better now that so many of us are going to go there.”
The Sunday Times, paperback pick of the week

“Andrea Gillies’s account of living with Alzheimer’s is the perfect fusion of narrative with enough memorable science not to choke you. It’s a fantastic book – down to earth and darkly comic in places. The judges found it compelling.”
Jo Brand, Chair of the judges of the Wellcome Prize, 2009

“A wonderful book – honest, upsetting, tender, sometimes angry, often funny – which takes us on a journey into dementia and explores what it means to be human.”
Deborah Moggach

“Important and moving” – The Times

“Deeply Moving” – Daily Mail

“Terrific, terrifying, absolutely powerful in every choice of word, every sentence… completely unflinching”
Quentin Cooper

“This is one of the most moving and important books that I have read on Alzheimer’s.”
John Bayley

“Thoughtful, informative and true… a very good, very necessary book.”
Sir Richard Eyre, Patron of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust

“Andrea Gillies is a brilliant prose stylist with a poet’s facility for metaphor and a brave wit born of exasperation and sadness.”
Professor Raymond Tallis

“Outstanding” – Altzheimer’s Research Trust

“A searingly honest account” – Daily Express

Keeper is intelligently written and impossible to classify… Gillies discusses daily activities in the same engagingly frank conversational tone as she recounts flashes of raw emotion, moments when anger and guilt burst through the veneer of capability…” TLS

“In Keeper there is hope and humanity and the warmth of sacrifice…” The Catholic Herald

“The most poignant aspect of Keeper is the way Gillies traces the increasingly unbearable pressures that are placed on carers as patients progress from memory lapses, not remembering important life events, and no longer recognising family members to the the final advanced stage that Gillies calls the ‘darkest shadow’.” The Lancet

About Andrea Gillies

Andrea Gillies lives in Edinburgh with her family. She has also written a novel The White Lie (Short Books, 2012).