I had been looking out for a Liane Moriarty book to read for a long time as I had many people extolling her storytelling to me. As a reticent buyer of new to me authors, I was waiting for a library copy of any of her books. As testament to her popularity, the numerous library copies had long reservation lists which I could have chosen to join but I really dislike reading with the pressure of a library borrower waiting list breathing down my neck. Eventually, I saw an MP3 audiobook of Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot on the shelf and as it was a rare day that I had driven to work, I borrowed it and played it on my 45 minute drive home. My discussion of the book will be twofold. The first will be about the story and then about the excruciating experience of listening to the audiobook. But first, the blurb:
What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty
(MP3 audiobook narrated by Caroline Lee)
‘She was floating, arms outspread, water lapping her body, breathing in a summery fragrance of salt and coconut. She had to squint through spangles of light to see her feet. Her toenails were each painted a different colour. Red. Gold. Purple. Funny.’ When Alice Love surfaces from a beautiful dream to find she’s been injured in a gym, she knows that something is very wrong – she hates exercise. Alice’s first concern is her baby – she’s pregnant with her first child, and she’s desperate to see her husband, Nick, who she knows will be worried about her.
But Alice isn’t pregnant. And Nick isn’t worried. Alice is the mother of three children and her hostile husband is in the process of divorcing her. Alice has lost ten years of her life.
Alice’s sister Elisabeth, who seems uncharacteristically cold, drives her home from the hospital. And ‘home’ is totally unrecognisable, as is the rest of her life. Who is this ‘Gina’ that everyone is carefully trying not to mention? Why does her mother look like she’s wearing fancy dress? And what’s all this talk about a giant lemon meringue pie?
In the days that follow, small bubbles of the past rise to the surface, and Alice is forced to confront uncomfortable truths. It turns out forgetting might be the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to her.
I am deliberately putting spoilers in this post because dammit I trolled the internet searching for spoilers and found nothing that satisfied me. I do not think I have unique reader needs so there must be other spoiler seekers out there and I will be the one that satisfies their curiosity. You are warned. I WILL BE DISCUSSING ALL THE SPOILERS AND ESPECIALLY THE ENDING! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW – GO AWAY NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!
While the rest of us wait for you to go:
ARE YOU NO-SPOILERS PEOPLE GONE?
So, Alice gets back with Nick her husband even though she has been dating (and yes sleeping) with her kids’ school principal (ewwwww) Dominique who sucks her toes (just noooooo!) after she and Nick broke up and started divorce proceedings. As the story unravels, you at first think that Alice is a total Upper North Shore/Eastern suburbs/Inner West/private school/aspirational public school/selective and gifted children’s school Parent and Citizens power mum and I bet she has the “Can I Speak to the Manager” haircut. Power Mum is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just that power mums do have the tendency to take over because those of us who kinda feel both incompetent and also couldn’t really give a shit about fund raising by cooking big meringues. I am also totally and utterly grateful for the existence of power mums because it means that I have never needed to step into the fundraising, let-us-get-this-place-sorted-TEAM-SCHOOL-FUCK-YEAH! shoes. (as an aside: I was the president of the P&C at my sons’ pre-school which was the most chillaxed position organising one tea per term until we were threatened to be closed down and then people looked to me for leadership and I just shrugged my shoulders terrified because I prefer to be led so one of those power mums stepped in, took over and saved the school and I am ever in awe of her and realised that I do not have what it takes to be on these committees).
Anyway – back to Alice!
Alice – total power mum, runs, is skinny, and now that she has lost her memory cannot work out how on earth she and her gorgeous, uxurious (BINGO!) husband have become so acrimonious towards each other that his vitriol towards her is just shocking. There is also Gina, Alice’s best-friend who was killed in a car accident while Alice was watching from the car behind. Somehow, as the story emerges, you expect there to be some big Gina secret or reveal but there isn’t. Gina was Alice’s best friend and Alice is deeply, deeply grief stricken. It is this grief that drives her to push Nick away (he was a bit of a pompous ass anyway and he acknowledges that he should have been more supportive to Alice). I guess I could also talk about Alice and Nick’s kids here but, I’ll leave some stuff for you to discover should you decide to read the book.
I am glad that Alice and Nick resolved their problems. I am glad that they both had time in other relationships to get to the point that they saw that they were quite special and loving and good for each other. There are plenty of novels that I have previously read where I get rather angry with a couple reconciling (I’m looking at you SEP’s Natural Born Charmer) because I believe that they are not well suited but in my heart I just reallllly wished that these managed to work through their problems – I’m so glad they did. It isn’t until the epilogue that you even discover that they reconciled (ahhhh! A proper epilogue that turns the story in on its head!). but there were moments and glimpses in Alice’s week of amnesia where their genuine love for each other, that smile, that touch which couples have, reveals itself in the story.
What I also see is the impact that a best friend and neighbour can have in your life. Alice and Gina lived in each other’s pockets. They supported each other, they loved each other to the point that losing Gina made Alice not cope, her grief ever-encompassing. And we forget sometimes that it is not only our love relationships that can make us feel deeply about another person, but that our friendships (and the loss of one) that sustain us through life. Grieving for a friend can take a long time to find peace.
It ended up taking 2 months for me to complete listening to the 15 hours of Caroline Lee’s narration of What Alice Forgot. This is a clear indication of how little time I spend driving alone in my car for any duration of time. The story had me engaged from the opening lines, however I felt such tension and frustration that I couldn’t speed through the MP3. I wanted to know what happened at the end, I had such anxious feelings about the whole story that I was constantly on edge. I ended up putting a reservation on the book but the reservation list is so long that it has yet to come in. I then contacted Jessica Tripler over at Twitter for spoilers and she was so wonderful as to oblige me. Once I knew some of the story’s outcomes I was able to relax into my listening a bit more. I was still vexed by my lack of listening time, and sure I could have downloaded the MP3 to my phone but I felt that this would fracture the story experience even further. This meant that I spent 2 months with Alice and her estranged husband Nick and her children and her sister and all the other characters in this book. The book is set in the suburb which I work in and where I studied and met my husband though it is over an hour away from where I grew up and still live. Upper class, old money, WASP community compared to my migrant, working class etc etc. Liane Moriarty has nailed the attitudes, characteristics, everything and the narrator, Caroline Lee has nailed the accent of the people in the area. There were times that younger/amnesiac Alice’s voice annoyed me. There was a little girl innocence about her that grated but this was very much in line with the character.
Having finished listening to the book two weeks ago, I am now quite glad that it took me so long to read it. Where during my listening of it I felt frustrated and impatient, I now feel that Alice’s life became part of mine. I felt her presence with me in every quiet drive, I still feel her presence. I dream of how her life now is with Nick and her grown kids. I feel like she is a character that will stay with me for many years for I was forced into a slow read. I look back at all the other novels I have read this year and I am saddened by the realisation that I cannot remember anyone’s name (bar Poppy the Lynne Graham goth). None of the stories have permeated my life, none of them are in my dreams.
But Alice is.