Book Reviews

“The Imposter” by Anna Wharton

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-publication proof copy of Anna Wharton’s first novel, The Imposter which is due for release in early 2021. Anna has been a journalist, writer and ghost writer for many, many years and most notably worked alongside Wendy Mitchell on her bestselling memoir about her life with early onset Alzheimer’s, Somebody I Used to Know. It’s easy to see how the time spent working on this amazing non-fiction book impacted Wharton’s first novel. Dementia is a key theme running through The Imposter and the description of both the illness and Grace, who is living with Alzheimer’s are both incredibly accurate and deftly written.

I want to be careful not to give away too many spoilers when describing The Imposter. Suffice to say if you enjoy a well-written thriller with twists and turns and surprises along the way. You’re going to really enjoy this novel. The main protagonist Chloe is an almost reclusive young woman who works as an archivist in a local newspaper by day and spends all her spare time caring for her Nan who has recently been diagnosed with Dementia. Chloe’s life changes really quickly when her Nan’s condition begins to decline so rapidly she’s forced to move the older lady into a residential care facility. As Chloe faces this huge life change she also becomes obsessed with a decades old, missing child case she discovers in the archives at work. Chloe begins to lose touch with her Nan as she becomes more and more entangled in the lives of the missing child’s parents who have never given up hope that their daughter might someday come home.

I’m not going to say too much about the missing child storyline in The Imposter except to say it had me hooked from the start and still on tenterhooks four hundred pages later. Wharton is a brilliant storyteller with a gift for building up tension and introducing believable twists in her plotlines. As a Dementia narrative I also found The Imposter very convincing. It includes so many familiar tropes I’ve come to associate with Alzheimer’s: wandering, confusing times and not recognising family members, forgetting when and what is appropriate to eat. Anyone who’s spent time with a family member or loved one living with Alzheimer’s will recognise both Grace’s behaviour patterns and the ways in which Chloe attempts to protect and reassure her Nan. There’s a scene near the start where Chloe is forced to buy yet another identical electric kettle to replace the ones her Nan has melted on the hob, which I’ve experienced personally with family members who have Dementia. Wharton’s depiction of Chloe is also spot on. Chloe both resents and relies upon the support of the care facility and social worker and Wharton does a wonderful job of capturing her frustration. It’s abundantly clear that Wharton has done a huge amount of research into Dementia and as a result Grace is one of the more believable and accurate of the characters I’ve encountered in my reading so far.

I was also incredibly relieved to find that Dementia has not been reduced now to a plot device in The Imposter. The storyline which explores Grace and Chloe’s relationship runs parallel to the more thriller-like storyline in the novel and exists as a wonderful piece of character development, allowing us to get an insight into who Chloe is and how her relationship with her Nan has developed. I really enjoyed this novel. It was great to see a character with Dementia included in such a well-developed way in a novel which is not primarily about Dementia. I’m looking forward to reading more of Anna Wharton’s work.

The Imposter was published by Mantle Books in 2021 

2 replies on ““The Imposter” by Anna Wharton”

I’m struck by how each of the reviewed books appear to talk of memory loss as a key dementia symptom. It is of course, for many people – but not for all of us with Alzheimer’s Disease. And it’s the characteristic that is undoubtedly most associated in people’s minds with neuro degenerative illness. The variety of non-amnesic Alzheimer’s is reckoned to be around 10% , although this is possibly an underestimate due to many folk not receiving a correct diagnosis.
Go on any website, read any leaflet about Alzheimer’s and it’s odds on that the first sentence will mention memory loss. Which is puzzling for folks like me – with other weird and wonderful symptoms, but who know who the Prime Minister is and what we had for breakfast.
I’m wondering, then, if anyone knows of any fictional representation of Alzheimer’s that doesn’t major on memory loss?

I think you’re right. The texts tend to focus on memory loss as the predominant aspect of dementia they explore. Sometimes you’ll see exploration of things like how dementia can affect language or spatial awareness but it’s usually an add on rather than the key focus. One of my main take away thoughts from reading so far (and I’ve now read about 80 fictional narratives), is the lack of diversity in terms of different types of dementia explored, also the lack of diversity in terms of the people included. I’ve only found two black narratives so far and the majority of characters tend to be white, middle class and elderly. we do hope to address and questions issues around lack of diverse representation at our festival in September.

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