When summer arrives to Temple Muse in 1963, the big house Áine Quigley shares with her mother is brought to life with the arrival of her sister Charlotte, home from Italy with her two children and adoring husband.
A free spirit, and fiercely protective of her little sister, Charlotte brings with her a sense of adventure which rubs off on Áine setting off a chain of events which will frame the rest of their lives.
From the fragrant flowerbeds of their luscious gardens to a sun-soaked terrace in Italy, Áine finds her life moving in a direction she had never thought possible.
But in her older years, when dementia threatens to steal those memories and when, with the help of her carer Georgina, she looks back on all that has passed, will she regret her choices in life or will she realise that everything worked out just as it always should have?
Still You was published by Poolbeg Press on 23 September 2015 and is Claire Allan's eighth novel. Her previous books are: Rainy Days and Tuesdays (2007); Feels Like Maybe (2008); Jumping In Puddles (2009); It's Got To Be Perfect (2010); If Only You Knew (2011); What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (2012) and The First Time I Said Goodbye (2013).
It's a long time since I read any of this author's books, long before I started my blog, but I remember enjoying them. I do still have a couple of her later novels on my shelf - waiting to be read.
When Georgina is given a new client by her manager at the care agency, she's worried. She has no experience of dealing with dementia patients and this client is related to a rich, well-known business man. Her first visit to Aine doesn't go well, and Georgina's fears are compounded. Aine is confused, upset and clearly thinks that Georgina is her sister, then her mother.
Jonathan, Aine's nephew is not impressed by Georgina, he's determined that she will not be looking after his Aunt and soon complains. However, Aine makes her own decisions and on her next visit Georgina is welcomed with open arms. Jonathan realises that Georgina is here to stay.
Claire Allan has structured Still You very cleverly. The reader meets Aine when she is old and confused. She's in the grip of Alzheimer's. At times she can be frustrated, and frustrating - other times find her lucid and welcoming. From their very shaky start, Aine and Georgina develop a relationship that is wonderfully depicted.
This friendship enables Aine to reflect back on her earlier life. The reader travels with Georgina and Aine back to the early 1960s - to Derry and to Tuscany in Italy, we learn about Aine's life, her family. We learn about huge decisions, about life changing events, we learn about the real Aine - the person left behind when Alzheimer's took her over.
This is also Georgina's story. Newly single, with teenage daughters and facing the future without her childhood love, she's adapting to change and to difficulties. The friendship between these two very different women develops slowly, but has huge benefits for both of them, and Georgina gains more than just a new friend.
Still You is beautiful, touching and very emotional read. It is clear from the writing that Claire Allan writes from experience. Her words ring with authenticity, with passion and with sorrow. Aine is an exquisite lead character; she's one of those characters who worm themselves into your brain, staying there and popping up during the day, she's funny, she's sad, and she's recognisable.
Alzheimer's is a wicked, evil, destructive disease that sadly will affect so many of us. There have been numerous novels lately that feature dementia and its impact on people, on life, on relationships; Claire Allan and Still You can take its place alongside Rowan Coleman's The Memory Book and Lisa Genova's Still Alice with pride.
My thanks to the author, Claire Allan, who sent my copy for review.
Claire Allan was born on the longest day of the year in the hottest summer on record - the glorious
drought ridden 1976.
She was born into the very lovely Davidson family in the city of Derry~ Londonderry in the North of Ireland and spent her formative years playing in the mucky fields of the Creggan Estate.
She has two sisters - Lisa and Emma - and one brother, Peter.
In 1999 she started working as a staff reporter for the Derry Journal - covering an array of news from politics to human interest stories.
As Claire approached her 30th birthday she decided to give writing books a shot. Basing her first novel ‘Rainy Days and Tuesdays’ very loosely on her own experiences with Post Natal Depression following the birth of her son Joseph in 2004 she wrote a book never knowing if anyone would read it.
Rainy Days and Tuesday was published in 2007 and was an instant bestseller.
It has been followed by Feels Like Maybe, Jumping in Puddles, It's Got to Be Perfect, If Only You Knew, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and The First Time I Said Goodbye.
Claire is married to Neil and they have two children - Joseph and Cara - and two cats, Alfie and Kitty Purry. She still lives in Derry where she continues to very proudly work for the Derry Journal.
She is addicted to social media, reading, baking , has a new found love of exercise (except burpees) and spending time with her family, especially her children and her adorable nieces and nephews.
Her weekly column Skirting the Issue appears in the Derry Journal each Friday.
Find out more about Claire, and her writing at her website www.claireallan.com
Follow her on Twitter @ClaireAllan