KEEPER, a non-fiction account of two years spent living with someone with rapidly worsening Alzheimer's disease, won the 2009 Wellcome Book Prize and the 2010 Orwell Prize for Literature.
When her mother-in-law Nancy became too ill to live unsupervised, Andrea Gillies, her husband and three children moved with her inlaws to a beautiful and isolated 22-roomed house on a wild promontory in northern Scotland. KEEPER is the story of two years spent in the company of dementia, and wrestling with sometimes competing roles as carer, mother, wife and writer, horse-and-chicken owner and runner-of-Bed-&-Breakfast. Depression was also wrestled with, as the Alzheimer's began to impact unexpectedly on the lives of all the occupants of the windswept romantic house.
KEEPER is a tapestry of a book, interleaving a diary of life with investigations into what dementia is, research that leads into fascinating questions about the connections between memory and identity. Frequent and increasingly dark conversations with Nancy are recorded, and an unintended black comedy begins to creep in. Meanwhile, looking for inspiration for life and for writing, the author goes out looking for the Sublime, in a landscape in which she and her problems are dwarfed by geography. Wordsworth, Larkin, Eliot, beach walks, tea and cake become vital parts of her life, as she fails to write a novel and Nancy, her disease accelerated by change, begins to move into dementia's alternate reality.
"A beautifully observed, utterly honest account of neurological illness. Important and moving." -- The Times
"An outstanding memoir... the author has tremendous literary sensibility and nimble comic gifts." -- The Observer
"Deeply moving" -- Daily Mail
"Terrific, terrifying, absolutely powerful in every choice of word, every sentence, and the whole thrust of it". -- Quentin Cooper, BBC Radio 4
"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
"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..." -- Times Literary Supplement
"Thoughtful, informative and true.... a very good, very necessary book". -- Sir Richard Eyre, Alzheimer's Research Trust
"Andrea Gillies' 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". -- Jo Brand
"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- author of The Kingdom of Infinite Space
"One of the most moving and important books I have read on Alzheimer's". -- John Bayley- husband of the late Iris Murdoch
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.”
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.”