Reading Readit: Inside the O’Briens 29



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Reading Readit

Inside the O’Briens By Lisa Genova

Available for $20.95 via Booktopia


“Ruth O’Brien drank herself to death”.

Joseph Frances (Joe) O’Brien never questioned the truth of this statement. He and his sister Maggie remember his mother’s vile temper tantrums, her slurred speech and can see her stumbling over her own feet. He remembers visiting her in the hospital where she eventually died. No sympathy for her, “Ruth O’Brien drank herself to death”.Insie the O'Brien's

Joe is Irish Catholic to his bootstraps; married to Rosie at 18, they have four children, Joseph Junior (JJ) Patrick, Meghan and Katie. Just to complete the picture, he is a respected member of the Boston Police Department. He inherited his three-story home from his father and the whole family still live together albeit in separate zones.

JJ, a fireman, is married to Colleen; Meghan is a ballet dancer, Katie teaches yoga and Patrick is a barman, except Joe wishes he would find a better occupation. Saddled as he is with his mother’s story, Joe is careful with his drinking and never touches drugs. Basically, life just muddles along.

Some days Joe’s temper gets the better of him, but the family understands, that’s just Joe. On other days Joe is a real butter fingers; he breaks all Rosie’s good glasses and even the crystal jug she inherited. More worrying is that he misplaces things, even his service weapon.

At work, Joes prides himself on the clarity of his crime reports, a clarity which assists the District Attorney’s in getting convictions. Not particularly tall, his physical stamina and methodical mind stand him in good stead as one of Boston’s Finest. When his reports take longer to prepare and it is harder to work a full shift, let alone overtime, he puts it down to stress, an excuse the family is happy to support.

When, finally, Joe agrees to see a doctor, he expects to be given a prescription, perhaps referred to another doctor for his trick knee and get everyone off his back. What he does not expect is a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease (HD) which will change not only his life, but have far-reaching effects on his family. Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. There is a 50/50 chance each of his children has the HD gene and each one carrying the gene may pass it on to their children.

Whilst the personal challenges faced by Joe form the core of this novel, the future faced by his children is thoughtfully and sensitively examined. There is a particular type of courage needed to make the decision to either have the genetic test or decide to live without knowing if you carry the HD genes. How do you feel when you are negative for the gene and your siblings are positive?

There are many heart-warming moments in this novel, two which come to mind are:

  • Katie reminding her father that she and her siblings looked to him for guidance their whole life, they learned so many life lessons from him; now they need his guidance, his example to show them how to live with HD.
  • Joe’s reassessment of his mother as he finally realises the truth behind “Ruth O’Brien drank herself to death.”

Lisa Genova has a unique ability to open our minds to diseases we may try to ignore, most famously, of course, with her highly acclaimed novel Still Alice. As a neuroscientist she knows the disease she writes about, as an author her talent enables her to reduce complex medical terms to concepts which someone without any medical training, such as yours truly, can easily understand. She also possesses the knowledge and talent to tell a sad story without being maudlin. There is an underlying sense of hope in the truth she tells.

Inside the O’Brien’s is another outstanding novel from an author whose books I find interesting, educational and yes, despite the subject matter, entertaining. Thank you to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), via NetGalley, for my ARC.


About the Author

Genova, Lisa

Lisa Genova, born 11 November 1970, graduated valedictorian, summa cum laude from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University.

Self-published, Still Alice has spent over 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Among other awards, it won the 2008 Bronte Prize. There are over 2.1 million copies in print, and it has been translated into 31 languages. It was chosen as one of the thirty titles for World Book Night 2013. Still Alice is now a major motion picture from Sony Pictures Classics.

Left Neglected, Lisa’s second novel, and her third novel Love Anthony were also New York Times bestsellers.

Lisa travels worldwide, speaking about Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and autism. She lives with her family on Cape Cod.

Available for $20.95 via Booktopia


Do you find it upsetting or educational to read books that focus on difficult issues like alcoholism and hereditary disease? Have you ever read a book about Huntington’s disease?

Karen OBrien Hall

Karen O'Brien-Hall followed many careers in her life and loved each one! From accountancy to the hospitality industry, from managing an employment agency to Executive Assistant to the Chairman of a multi-national, when she retired Karen was in Public Relations. Whatever her career path at the time, Karen is a lifelong volunteer. Married to "the love of my life", John, her second love is community theatre where she enjoys acting and directing. Karen enjoys time in her garden and can always finds time to read, around 8 – 10 books a month. Her reviews appear on Starts at Sixty, Goodreads,The Reading Room and her own page

  1. Just a personal note: Last year a school friend told me her husband had HD; I made appropriate noises and the conversation moved on. Not until reading this book did I really appreciate what her simple statement means to that family.

  2. Thanks, Karen. There is only one course to overcome Huntington’s but it would take a brave family to embark upon it. I have a friend with HD. She loves to paint but, as her capacity to coordinate deteriorated, she had to stop painting – her wheelchair and artists’ easels simply did not allow it. I designed and made a wheelchair-friendly easel for her. There were a number of constricted throats seeing her great joy the day she baptised it!

    2 REPLY
    • Congratulations, John, on such a practical response to your friend’s needs.

    • What a lovely thoughtful thing to do for her John – I’d have more than a tight throat witnessing her joy.

  3. Great review. Thank you, this is one I would like to read. All those questions that come up,bringing all sorts if dilemmas. My friend with Alzheimer’s had no children but she was one of five siblings who all seemed to inherit it from the mother. I know that the next generation are very apprehensive.

  4. I have just finished ‘Still Alice’ and will now add this book to the Wishlist. Sometimes we need to step back from our comfort zones.

  5. Have just bought this book, find all her books excellent, she always handles each subject in a very sensitive way but fully appreciate anyone who has personal experience with it would find it a bit raw.

  6. My friends mother had Huntingtons. Before she was diagnosed as teenagers we used to laugh at her crazy behaviour. Once she was diagnosed my friend and her siblings got tested for the gene with my friend getting negative. Unfortunately this was wrong as she now has the disease and has lost a lot of her ability to interact with people and live her life to the the fullest. She was always a vibrant and outgoing person so this makes it very hard.

  7. How awful to have this hanging over one’s head. Will try and get this book into our library here.

    1 REPLY

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