Liz Anderson

Drawing a blank

Liz Anderson on Stefan Merrill Block's new book

I can’t remember. How many times have we all made a similar response and thought no more about it? But what if those three words start to recur rather more often? Panic. And what if you are under 60 years of age and you know that a family member has already been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s (EOA)? Total panic.

The Story of Forgetting is surprisingly upbeat considering that dementia — and the early-onset type, too — is at the heart of the story. The disease, its author Stefan Merrill Block has written, has spared few in his own mother’s family and as a consequence this extraordinarily accomplished first novel has an unsentimental authority — the descriptions of not only the symptoms of the disease but also its effect on other family members ring disturbingly true.

Abel Haggard, a 70-year-old hunchback, lives alone on his family’s ramshackle farm on the outskirts of a rapidly encroaching city, left with aching memories of his adored sister-in-law, with whom he fathered a much loved daughter, whom he longs to see again. Seth Waller, a clever 15-year-old student, lives with his parents hundreds of miles away, worrying about the increasingly bizarre behaviour of his mother and the incomprehensible lack of concern shown by his father. Abel and Seth narrate alternate chapters, and at first the only link between them appears to be that, in childhood, they were both told stories of a magical land — Isidora — where

Once a man arrives … he will not remember the value of gold. He will not remember the value of anything, for that matter.

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