Published – 7th April 2015
Publisher – Gallery Books
Inside the O’Briens is the fourth novel from the extremely talented Lisa Genova, an American neuroscientist and author with the critically acclaimed Still Alice and Left Neglected in her back catalogue. Having already tackled early onset dementia, hemispatial neglect and autism in previous novels, Genova turns the spotlight on Huntington’s Disease, an incurable genetic disorder with obvious physical symptoms such as chorea (an involuntary movement disorder) and the hidden but emotionally devastating symptoms of depression and anxiety.
We learn about this cruel disease through the eyes of the O’Brien family, ordinary Boston folk whose lives are turned upside down when Joe O’Brien, a 44 year old cop, is diagnosed with Huntingtons. We see the savage effect Huntingtons has on his immediate family, his wife Rosie and four children in their twenties who have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the faulty gene. As well as dealing with an uncertain future, Joe has to come to terms with the knowledge that his mother died, not from alcoholism but Huntingtons and the extent to which this rare genetic disorder is still misunderstood.
The fact that Lisa Genova has raised awareness of Huntingtons by writing this novel is unquestionably laudable and it certainly enlightened me as to the plight of those with HD but this enlightenment came at the expense of well-rounded, believable characters. Character is key in dictating whether I will like a novel or not. I don’t have to like the characters, I just need to believe in them. I found the O’Briens too flat, too cliched with the plethora of religious objects and booze…just in case you forgot they were of Irish descent.
Overall this was an interesting and edifying read.
Lisa Genova’s next novel is to revolve around ALS which was highlighted last year by online ice bucket challenges.
My thanks to NetGalley and Galley Books for providing an e-copy in exchange for an honest review.