9 min read ⌚
What if you suddenly forget everything about the last ten years of your life?
Would you be able to understand how you got to where you are?
And would you be happy with your life?
Liane Moriarty tries to answer these questions in
Who Should Read “What Alice Forgot”? And Why?
If you’ve read and enjoyed The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot may disappoint you a bit. But still, you’ll find many Moriarty-worthy things to enjoy here.
However, if instead of gripping thrillers, you enjoy memory-related romantic comedies such as While You Were Sleeping and The Vow, or 13 Going on 30 and 50 First Dates, you’ll enjoy What Alice Forgot even more!
Liane Moriarty Biography
Liane Moriarty is an Australian author.
After a decade-long career in advertising, she published her first novel, Three Wishes, in 2004, and her second, The Last Anniversary, two years later.
What Alice Forgot was published in 2010 and was a relative success at the time, just like The Hypnotist’s Love Story which came out one year later.
However, it was Moriarty’s fifth novel, The Husband’s Secret, which brought her international acclaim, making to the top of both The USA Today and The New York Times bestseller lists; soon, CBS Films acquired the rights for the book: the movie (starring Blake Lively) should come out during the next year.
Moriarty’s sixth novel, Big Little Lies, debuted at #1 on The New York Times bestseller and remained there for quite some time; in 2017, it was adapted into an award-winning HBO series, starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.
Kidman and Witherspoon have already bought the rights for Moriarty’s 2016 novel, Truly Madly Guilty; her last novel, Nine Perfect Strangers, was published in September 2018.
Find out more at http://lianemoriarty.com.au/
What Alice Forgot begins with the protagonist of the novel – who but Alice? – obsessing in bed over how much of her life should change now that she is pregnant.
A burst of memories follows, and suddenly she is in the gym, having no idea how she got there. Alice is all but sure that this has to be some kind of a mistake because she is not exactly someone who regularly visits the gym.
However, no matter how much she tries to get some information from the other people there, she is merely growing more and more confused.
Eventually, we realize that she has hit her head while peddling on an exercise bike. Which is why soon paramedics arrive. They ask Alice some basic questions so as to see if she has suffered a concussion. One of them refers to her age.
Alice says she is 29.
Probably while the paramedics are wondering to what extent is Alice delusional, a friend of hers joins in the discussion and says that Alice is, in fact, a decade older: she should turn 40 later during the year.
However, as far as Alice is concerned, that cannot be, since it is not 2008; but 1998! In other words, the hit cost Alice all of her memories from the past ten years!
Which is why she doesn’t understand what she is doing at the gym, in the first place; namely, as opposed to the 40-year-old Alice, her 29-year-old version wasn’t much of a gym person.
But, of course, the visit to the gym is the slightest of Alice’s problems now.
Since she can’t remember anything from the past ten years, she has problems understanding who is she – and how did she become the person she is!
That introductory image of her lying pregnant in bed?
Well, that’s her at 29, married to the love of her life, Nick, and waiting for a baby.
And her life now at 40?
Definitely not pregnant anymore – one of the first things she checks – and in the process of divorcing Nick.
She has only fond memories of him. And whatever happened to her baby?
Alice checks her body more thoroughly and notices a scar on her stomach. The doctors – she is now in the hospital – inform her that it is from when they had to cut her baby out of her because she wasn’t open enough to be able to squeeze it.
And that’s only one of her three pregnancies!
Apparently, Alice is now a mother of one boy, Tom, and two girls, Olivia and Madison.
Alice manages to get in touch with Elizabeth, her older sister. She is, we learn, incredibly close to her.
Elizabeth appears at the hospital but doesn’t seem too happy about doing that; if anything, she seems as if a distant acquaintance. Clearly, something has happened between the two sisters in the decade which Alice has forgotten.
And we’re about to find out: Elizabeth takes Alice home and brings her up to date.
The Lost Decade
So, here are some of the things which happened in the meantime; and some which are happening at the time.
Interestingly enough, one of the first things we learn from Elizabeth is that Nick’s father, Roger, has married Alice’s mother.
That surprised us. You can only imagine what it does to Alice.
But it’s merely the beginning.
As expected, at first, all things were more than great between Nick and Alice; and then Alice became a mother.
Unable to juggle between her career and her children, Alice started feeling cornered (not to mention overwhelmed) by the expectations hovering over her new job as a mother.
Nick tries to offer some support – but it’s far from enough.
The lovers grow distant over the next few years; and then, they start hating each other. In fact, they are not only in the middle of a divorce but also at the heart of a spiteful and savage custody battle.
Meanwhile, Alice is so consumed with her own problems, that she completely disregards Elizabeth’s.
And Elizabeth does have some serious problems of her own.
Namely, she is trying to have a child with her husband, Ben, for more than seven years. However, she suffers quite a few miscarriages, and each of them leads to an episode of severe depression.
We find out more about them from Elizabeth’s long letters to her psychiatrist.
Elizabeth’s Letters to Her Psychiatrist
Most of these talk about Elizabeth’s unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant.
At first, it’s because of Ben. We don’t know why, but he cannot get her pregnant. Naturally, Elizabeth and Ben try to get all the help they can and they go to a lab. Since artificial insemination wouldn’t work, they opt for in vitro fertilization.
Elizabeth does get pregnant now, but for some reason, her body keeps rejecting the babies and starts killing them one after another.
This is what causes her recurring bouts with depression. And, of course, they lead to a host of marriage problems with Ben. And, of course, the problems worsen her depression.
It’s a vicious circle Elizabeth is unable to get out of. Unfortunately, Alice is never around for her. True, she has a family of her own and some severe problems herself, but, unlike her, Elizabeth tries to help her from time to time.
Alice can’t believe what she’s hearing.
She has obviously become someone she didn’t want to.
And she wants to make amends big time.
Questions Abound: Gina, Nick and Dominick
In the meantime, Alice gets some of her memories back, and she remembers a mysterious woman named Gina.
It is obvious to her that she was a big part of her life, but it is not exactly obvious how.
So, she starts asking around – family members and friends – about the identity of Gina. Interestingly enough, nobody will tell her anything significant about her; better live it that way, they say – it’s less hurtful.
And it seems that nobody wants to tell her anything significant about her marriage problems as well.
Even though all she finds out about Nick is that he wasn’t around her as much as necessary, people tell her that once she gets her memory back, she will not be able to stay with Nick – or even forgive him.
Apparently, all of their marriage problems owed their origins to one thing, though we are not informed what that one thing is.
You can’t blame Alice for thinking that this mysterious one thing must have something to do with the other mysterious thing on her mind: Gina.
She puts 2 and 2 together and comes to the conclusion that Nick must have cheated on her with Gina.
However, a message she gets on her phone reveals that she may be the one cheating on him.
It’s from Madison’s principal, Dominick, saying that they should “do it again” soon.
There’s no mystery here whatsoever: the message means exactly what you think it means. Apparently, Alice has already started seeing other people, even though her divorce is not finalized yet.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth gets pregnant again.
She is, understandably, both happy and anxious about it.
Her worst fears seem to realize when she starts bleeding one day between her legs. But this time Alice is around for her to alleviate the pain.
Fortunately, it turns out to be nothing serious, and, even more fortunately, Elizabeth eventually gives birth to a healthy girl.
Finally, her life seems fulfilled.
And her marriage is back on its track.
So much so that she and Ben decide to stay away from the risk of further pregnancies (they want a big family) and adopt three Vietnamese kids.
And then, while caring for her adopted children, Elizabeth comes to a simple, but valuable and life-affirming realization:
We should have given up years ago. It’s so clear now. We should have ‘explored other options.’ We should have adopted. We gave up years of our lives and we very nearly destroyed our marriage. Our happy ending could have and should have arrived so much sooner. And even though I adore the fact that Francesca has Ben’s eyes, I also see now that her biological connection to us is irrelevant.
Alice’s Memory Returns
Suddenly, Alice gets her memory back.
And she also realizes something simple and valuable.
Interestingly enough, this realization doesn’t come out of a resolution of the mysteries we left you with above; on the contrary, it comes from the lack of such a thing.
Namely, Nick wasn’t having an affair with Gina.
Gina was actually Alice’s best friend who, unfortunately, passed away after a tree fell on her. She and Alice were close; however, this closeness was the reason why Alice and Elizabeth drifted apart.
It was also one of the reasons why she and Nick started arguing.
You see, Gina’s marriage fell apart at the time Alice’s went into parenthood mode. Almost naturally, Alice started feeling envious of her friend’s freedom and lifestyle. Also, she started getting insecure about her own future.
But nothing more than that ever happened.
Indeed, the only other reason (the main one, in fact) why Alice and Nick’s marriage is in shambles is the one everybody was telling her all the time.
Simply put, Nick wasn’t around her enough of the time.
But, really, is that enough of a reason to separate from someone you loved so much just a few years ago?
What Alice Forgot Epilogue
No, it’s not.
So, Alice breaks things off with Dominick and gives her marriage one more chance.
Years later, she and Nick reconcile their differences.
And she is once again as happy and as in love as when she was 29 years old.
Even better, in fact!
She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship with Nick was the ultimate, the feeling they’d always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near – divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best – well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.
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Our Critical Review
What Alice Forgot is engaging and entertaining romantic comedy, both funny and thought-provoking.
However, we feel that it lacks some of the drama and all of the dark elements which made The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies such unputdownable hits all but ready for the big screen.
And also: at 500 pages, it may be a bit long for its own sake.
Not that you won’t be able to finish it or anything; it’s just that you might enjoy some parts much more than other.