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Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

what alice forgot moriarty Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Twenty-nine year old Alice Loves surname suits her perfectly: she has a heart so large it could feature in an Edgar Allen Poe short story (in a good way, of course), feels nothing but glorious, unabashed adoration for her new husband Nick, sees potential lurking in every corner of the once-gorgeous home they bought for a song but for which others might only have paid a verse, does what she can to indulge in the finer things in life (one suspects that Pink champagne and Cadbury Roses are Alices idea of a top-notch present, and no doubt she leaves the Turkish Delight ones for poor Nick), and is growing in her belly a wee little lass or lad referred to affectionately as The Sultana. Alice delights in mulling over all of the things that her future will bring to her, and if she were the sort of person who drank loose leaf tea, shed be reading the dregs in the bottom of her chipped, colourful Target mug.

But Alice isnt at all who she thinks she is. In fact, the Alice we first meet is in fact the Alice of ten years ago: the real Alices memory of the past decade has been wiped clean by a nasty knock on the head sustained during a rigorous bout on the treadmill (exercise will do that to you, 29-year-old Alice would no doubt say, happily slurping her coffee through a heat-squidgy Tim Tam). With her memory gone, Alice suddenly finds herself living the life of a complete stranger, and with no idea how she got there. Fun-loving Alice with her boyfriend jeans, mismatching crockery, and laissez-faire approach to virtually everything in life has been replaced by a stern and leathery Alice who boasts a sharp bob, the calendar of a socialite trying to make up for a much-publicised misdemeanour by turning into a social saint, and a house full of Smeg and Bang and Olufsen gadgets. Expensive European gizmos arent the only things inhabiting Alices newly pristine house, however: somewhere along the way The Sultana not only celebrated her tenth birthday, but gained two siblings, too (my goodness, how youve grown! thinks the dazed and confused Alice). But other things have changed, too, and Alice finds herself facing an empty bed at night, and finds that she is now estranged from her beloved sister Elisabeth. But with her new perspective on life, will Alice find a way of turning things around?

My Thoughts

What Alice Forgot is part of my mums extensive chick-lit collection, which I raided whilst visiting over the Christmas break, and I picked it up after having read and very much enjoyed The Last Anniversary by the same author (see my review). Moriarty is a relative newcomer to the literary scene, but seems to be an author willing to experiment with a genre that can so easily fall prey to formulaic approaches, and happily indulges in all manner of narrative risk-taking. While some of these efforts are more successful than others, Moriartys ability to hang her narrative on characters who are utterly believable and terribly (sobbingly!) sympathetic allows her to get away with some literary flights of fancy that wouldnt otherwise work.

What Alice Forgot, for example, braids not only three different perspectives written in substantially different formatsa straight narrative for Alice, a confessional style format for her sister Elisabeth, and a blog format for Frannie, Alices grandmotherbut also contrasts two parallel narratives occurring a decade apart. Its a fairly complex approach to take, and admittedly one that isnt always successful, with Elisabeths entries, which depict her struggle to conceive for IVF, becoming sometimes repetitious and distant, and Frannies feeling rather disconnected from the main plot, but Moriartys skill with character and her generally excellent pacing skills ensuring that the reader continues on her merry way despite the disparate narrative threads. Of the alternative points of view, however the entries from Elisabeths perspectives are by far the stronger, offering a sobering and realistic portrayal of the ups and downs involved in infertility, and the painful accompanying social positioning, and indeed, social stigma. Frannies blog posts, on the other hand, seem designed to add levity to what is at times a challenging narrative: as in her earlier work, Moriarty engages with some dark and difficult themes in a way that can be brutally realistic, and one cant help but wonder whether Frannies entries are an afterthought to bring the overall tone back over to chick-lit rather than more general womens fiction.

The major theme in the book is, of course, redemption, and Alices unique position as a result of her memory loss (which has no medical basis, leaving one to wonder whether its simply psychosomatic; a coping device of sorts to allow her to reflect on her current position) lets her examine her past and present selves and muse not only on the vast disjunct between the two, but on how this disjunct came to occur in the first place. Young Alice is aghast at the person that she seems to have become, but as she slowly pieces together the elusive pieces of her missing decade, she begins to see how certain events and contexts have shaped her into the person she has become, and that what she truly seeks is an existence that falls between her younger and older selves. This is particularly interesting given the case of Nick, as from the early chapters it seems as though it is solely Alices transformation that has wrought such damage on their relationship. However, Moriarty is a thoughtful enough writer to avoid allowing such black and white situations crop up in her work, and both sides of the story slowly unfold, leaving the reader somewhat torn in their loyalties. Alices strained relationship with her sister Elisabeth is also movingly explored, and there are moments here that are utterly heart-wrenching. Alices slow reconciliation with her children, too, is quite beautiful, and the evident change in the way she engages with the Sultana is one that could well have never come about were it not for her accident. The fact that Alice has not only forgotten how to be a parent, but who her children are is disturbing, yes, but not as disturbing as the thought that she might well have continued indefinitely along the same painful path were it not for her accident.

Despite all this, however, I cant help but feel that the three narrative wraps up a little too quickly and neatlyone can easily imagine a literary bow perched atop of the conclusionand this feels at odds with Moriartys otherwise subtle examination of the various themes and characters. The epilogue in particular, where we fast forward to Alices new and improved life after her emotional transformation, feels tacked on, and the book would be stronger if it were either fleshed out substantially or removed altogether. Its a niggling complaint, but one that affected my reading of the book as a whole.


With this and her excellent The Last Anniversary,'Liane Moriarty is firmly on my must-read list, and Ill be perusing my mums shelves on my next holiday to see whether theres anything I might have inadvertently passed over. Moriarty is a chick-lit writer with verve, style, and an essential sense of character and identity, and her willingness to tackle dark and challenging themes within the fairly narrow framework of this genre is commendable. While What Alice Forgot does lag a little due to the jarring addition of some extraneous point of view characters, its a worthwhile read that speaks to the authors strengths.

Rating: star Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartystar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartystar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartyblankstar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartyblankstar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (good)

See also our review of The Last Anniversary (Rating: star Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartystar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartystar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartyhalfstar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartyblankstar Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty)

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Other books by Liane Moriarty:

last anniversary moriarty Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriartythree wishes moriarty Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


  1. Thanks for this review. Ive been contemplating reading this one because, like you, I enjoyed the last LM book I wrote. I think Ill give this a go it sounds interesting enough to overcome my dislike of amnesia devices in plots.

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, and thanks for visiting! Youre right that the whole amnesia thing is certainly a painful cliche in general, but Moriarty is a talented enough writer to do something interesting with it. The book ends up being more an examination of past, present, and future selves and the choices that resulted in these selves rather than a simple oh dear, Ive lost my memory novel, and is quite a strong read. I hope you enjoy it. :)

  2. I just put this on reserve at the library, thanks for the review Steph

  3. Stephanie /

    My pleasure, Shelley Rae. I hope you enjoy it!