Lisa Genova's debut, self-published novel, Still Alice made it onto my Top Ten Books of 2010 so I held high hopes for this, her latest novel, published on 4th January 2011. Again, the focus is on a brain disorder - in Still Alice it was early onset dementia and in Left Neglected it is Left Neglect, a disorder whereby the brain is unable to perceive anything on the left hand side. Left Neglect is a much rarer condition than dementia so the subject matter does not immediately resonate with the reader in the way that Alice's deterioration did but I think this is a plus point for readers as those who perhaps avoided Still Alice as it was too close to the bone might feel less threatened and would not have personal experiences which might cloud their reading enjoyment.
Our narrator, Sarah Nickerson, is a 37 year old high flyer who seems to have it all, happily married with 3 young children, has a successful career in human resources, lives in an affluent suburb in Boston. Okay, if you scrape the surface a little you might see some flaws - 80 hour working week, tensions of juggling career and childcare, working towards getting more money to get a bigger house in order to have live-in childcare - perhaps not the American Dream after all? Following a car accident, Sarah's life is turned upside down, or, should that be, slightly askew as she has to adjust to life with Left Neglect. It proves extremely difficult for such a high-flying perfectionist to appreciate how long it will take her to re-learn basic life skills and even more traumatic for her to accept help from her mother who had emotionally neglected her since childhood.
Neglect is a pervasive theme here, not just the Left Neglect of the title but emotional neglect from both Sarah and her mother - the things we neglect to say or do in order to keep on keeping on, the emotional minehills we ignore in order to maintain the status quo, no matter how unsatisfying that is. Lisa Genova manages to create a realistic story of survival without ever straying into schmaltz. Just as in Still Alice, she treads a tightrope between the hard scientific facts and how we deal with them on a human level. The medical condition may seem far removed from us but the emotional implications and the ripples caused by a life changing event will resonate with all readers - another triumph from Lisa Genova!