Magazine article The Spectator

The Perfect Stranger

Magazine article The Spectator

The Perfect Stranger

Article excerpt

MY BONNIE

by John Suchet

Harper Collins, £18.99, pp. 311, ISBN 9780007328420

There are an estimated 417,000 people in the UK suffering from Alzheimer's disease and double that number suffering from other forms of dementia.

Potentially there are a large number of readers for John Suchet's touchingly honest account of his wife's slide into dementia, but - and here is the irony - it will not be the victims themselves of these diseases who will perhaps find comfort or insight from his book but the million or more carers who look after them.

John Suchet is a famous television journalist and former newscaster for ITV. He is the brother of the actor David Suchet and author of several works on Beethoven. While still married, and with young children to look after, he fell in love with Bonnie, a strikingly beautiful woman who lived near him in Henley, who was also married and also had a family of her own. It was love at first sight. A powerful and irrepressible physical attraction drew them together. There were difficulties and divorces that both had to go through before they could be together, but despite some financial hardship, and a blip in his career as a television journalist, they were finally able to marry in 1985 and build a life together in a flat in London and a farmhouse in Gascony.

For a time all went well. Both had good, challenging jobs. Both enjoyed travelling and visiting their French idyll. To those who knew them then they must have seemed the perfect couple. He, strong and virile, with a good speaking voice like his brother's, a natural broadcaster.

She, slim and beautiful, with a wide smile, good nature and that grace which seems to be one of the defining characteristics of women born on the East Coast of America.

Then, six years ago, Bonnie began to show the first signs of confusion - small things, like loosing her way in an airport. But, as I know only too well myself, these small signs which one is apt to dismiss with a laugh and a joke - 'must have Alzheimer's', we say as we desperately look for the keys to the front door - are a warning, and in 2006 Bonnie was diagnosed with this dreaded condition.

She took the diagnosis with remarkable good grace and, again, there is an irony about the situation Suchet found himself in. The sufferer can be blissfully unaware that they have a serious, life-destroying problem. It is the poor carers or partners (don't you just hate those words? …

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