Joe O’Brien is a Boston cop; his physical stamina and methodical mind have seen him through decades policing the city streets, while raising a family with his wife Rosie. When he starts making uncharacteristic errors, he attributes them to stress. Finally, he agrees to see a doctor and is handed a terrifying, unexpected diagnosis: Huntington’s disease.
Not only is Joe’s life set to change beyond recognition, but each of his four grown children has a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the disease. Observing her potential future play out in his escalating symptoms, his pretty yoga teacher daughter Katie wrestles with how to make the most of the here and now, and how to care for her dad who is, inside, always an O’Brien.
‘Inside the O’Briens’ was one of my favourite reads of last year (along with ‘Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole’). It has the same sort of emotional grip of Genova’s previous novel, Still Alice, but rather than most of the emotion being focused on the ‘sufferer’ a lot is focused on the family, who can see what may come to be, and who don’t know if they want to know.
In a way the more family focused plot line is more accessible than the story of Joe himself, it’s hard to imagine yourself being ill, but easier to think of the type of dread that you may experience when you know you might be ill.
In lots of ways Inside the O’Briens is like Still Alice, except that the illness is more physical than neurological (or should I say the symptoms are as Huntington’s is a neurological disease). Like Alice, Joe was loosing a major part of himself, as a police officer his job was very physical where Alice’s required her memory and intellect. It’s hard not to compare them.
Genova’s neurological background means that the story is both realistic, and factually accurate. Her skill as a writer means that the story reads not like a dry case study, but like a compassionate look at how the medical facts can impact on real people. It is not a true story, but you can well imagine that it could be.
You can find out more about Huntington’s Disease at The Huntington Disease Association
So Many Books So Little Time (yes it is a different one!)