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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Turn Of Mind by Alice La Plante

Usually I read purely for enjoyment but every now and then a book comes along that is so powerful that I know it will impact upon my everyday life for a long time. Big words, but Turn Of Mind is definitely one of these books.

Firstly, I just want to mention the marketing of this book which I feel is maybe a little off key. The edition that I have bears an unfortunate resemblance to a certain blockbuster series that you will almost certainly recognise, and in fact two separate friends on two separate occasions spotted it lying around my flat and exclaimed 'ugh, you aren't reading one of those Twilight rip-off books are you?'. Another problem that has been mentioned in a couple of other reviews I've read is that the blurb suggests this is a fairly traditional crime thriller which has led to false expectations and disappointment for some readers. Turn Of Mind is neither of these things but it is a truly unique and thought-provoking novel.

An elderly woman is found murdered in her home in a gruesome manner, and bizarrely, her fingers have been expertly dissected away from her hand and can't be found. Naturally the police immediately turn to her best friend and adversary Dr Jennifer White, an eminent hand surgeon. The problem is that there is no concrete evidence, and Jennifer herself is well on her way into the slow decline of Alzheimer's disease. Jennifer is unable to even remember that her friend is dead most of the time, never mind remember if she was the one who killed her.

The murder provides an interesting backdrop to what is really a fascinating study of the turmoil that Alzheimer's disease, and dementia in general, inflicts on the mind. The prose is disjointed, the paragraphs short, the timeline flits back and forth as we travel between Jennifer's more lucid periods in the present and the old memories she escapes to. LaPlante vividly illustrates the sickening impact that dementia can have on the individual as well as the whole family unit. What's more, she explores the attitudes of society as a whole to individuals with dementia. It really made me reflect upon my behaviour towards my own patients and gave me a whole new awareness of their potential level of insight into their condition. I have also regularly seen quite dubious behaviour from colleagues, relatives, and other patients towards people with dementia on the ward, and reading this book made me want to actively challenge that.

Murder mysteries are always scary but for me the most terrifying thing of all was contemplating the prospect that any one of us could succumb to this very common condition, which is the worst way to live out old age that I can imagine. The plot is intriguing and the ending is satisfying but I think that all of us could potentially take a lot more than that away from this great book.

This book counts towards my RIP VII challenge!


  1. I've heard a lot about this book from other crime bloggers. I'm tempted to give it a go. You're right about that cover though...

  2. I really enjoyed this book, I received it from the Powell's Indiespensable program. Mine has a very very different cover, which in this case I think is a good thing!

    1. I have never heard of Indiespensables but having just Googled it, it looks amazing!! I'm not aware of any similar programmes running in the UK but if one existed I would sign up to it straight away.