Keeper: A Book About Memory, Identity, Isolation, Wordsworth and Cake

by Andrea Gillies

Biography / Autobiography Family Drama

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Winner of the inaugural Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2009 (the 2011 prize is announced in October) and the Orwell Prize 2010.

This book could so easily have been subtitled A Descent into Hell, that it isn’t is thanks to Andrea Gillies exploratory method of care, her seeking to find out just what is happening in her mother-in-laws brain as she succumbs to Alzheimer’s. She reports on her progress through the disease showing not just the devastation on the sufferer but for those around them trying to deal with an imperious old lady no longer responsible for her actions. Andrea Gillies also reveals the huge problems we have as a society with Dementia care, the ageing population bringing untold problems as the numbers of dementia patients continues to rise. This all sounds very depressing, but due to Andrea Gillies’ detective work it is an essay in trying to understand and the more fascinating for that, making this a most inspirational piece of writing, beautifully observed, utterly honest and an emotionally draining account of neurological illness.

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Sue Baker

Keeper: A Book About Memory, Identity, Isolation, Wordsworth and Cake Synopsis

Can our personalities be taken away from us? Are we more than just the sum of our memories? What exactly is the soul?


Three years ago, Andrea Gillies, a writer and mother of three, took on the care of her mother-in-law Nancy, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. This newly extended family moved to a big Victorian house on a headland in the far, far north of Scotland, where the author failed to write a novel and Nancy, her disease accelerated by change, began to move out of the rational world and into dementia's alternative reality.


This book is a journal of life in this wild location, in which Gillies tracks Nancy's unravelling grasp on everything that we think of as ordinary, and interweaves her own brilliantly cogent investigations into the way Alzheimer's works.  For the family at the centre of this drama, the learning curve was steeper and more interesting than anyone could have imagined.

Keeper: A Book About Memory, Identity, Isolation, Wordsworth and Cake Press Reviews

“Andrea Gillies’s account of living with Alzheimer’s is the perfect fusion of narrative with enough memorable science not to choke you. It’s a fantastic book - down to earth and darkly comic in places. The judges found it compelling." 
Jo Brand, Chair of the judges of the Wellcome Prize, 2009

 “A wonderful book ¬– honest, upsetting, tender, sometimes angry, often funny – which takes us on a journey into dementia and explores what it means to be human.” Deborah Moggach

 “Terrific, terrifying, absolutely powerful in every choice of word, every sentence... completely unflinching” Quentin Cooper

“This is one of the most moving and important books that I have read on Alzheimer’s.” John Bayley

“Thoughtful, informative and true... a very good, very necessary book.” Sir Richard Eyre, Patron of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust

“Andrea Gillies is a brilliant prose stylist with a poet's facility for metaphor and a brave wit born of exasperation and sadness.” Professor Raymond Tallis

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781906021993
Publication date: 20/05/2010
Publisher: Short Books Ltd
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781906021993
Publication date: 20th May 2010
Author: Andrea Gillies
Publisher: Short Books Ltd
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 320 pages
Genres: Biography / Autobiography, Family Drama,
Categories: Coping with illness & specific conditions, Memoirs,

About Andrea Gillies

Andrea Gillies lives in St Andrews with her family and is now writing a novel.

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