There are three things you should know about Elsie.
The first thing is that she’s my best friend.
The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.
And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.
84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she
waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to
light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a
man who died sixty years ago?
From the author of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, this book will teach you
many things, but here are three of them:
1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.
Published January 11th 2017 by Borough Press
I haven’t read Joanna Cannon’s best selling debut, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, and so I went into this book with no expectations at all. What I got in return was an intensely poignant story, which left me an emotional ball of aching sadness mixed with hope, joy and inspiration.
Three Things About Elsie tells the story of best friends since childhood, Florence and Elsie, who now live in sheltered accommodation for the elderly. It begins as Florence take a fall, and as she waits in her apartment to be found, begins reminiscing on a past tangled in her deteriorating memory. It’s a past shrouded in a secret come back to haunt her, and a mystery to solve – if only Florence could rely on knowing if what she remembers is real or not. Thank goodness Elsie is around to help with her remembering…
I loved this book right from the start. Joanna Cannon’s writing style is beautifully accessible yet filled with nuance and depth which I really connected with very early on. The mystery of the secrets of Florence’s past had me intrigued, as did the question about the identity of the new resident of the sheltered accommodation which was causing Florence so much distress. While these elements kept me eager to find out the truth, however, this isn’t what made the book so absolutely stand out brilliant for me.
Joanna Cannon’s depiction of the frail and confused Florence is exquisite. I have a lot of experience of Alzheimer’s and dementia, having worked with the Elderly for many years, until not so long ago. However, it wasn’t until my own Grandmother was diagnosed that I fully understood how this illness takes a person little by little, and saw from a different perspective how society treats the elderly – how carers and health professionals can fail to see the person with a whole life of experiences before this point. I was immediately impressed with the way she presents Florence as a person, and conveys the dehumanisation she feels as an elderly resident in sheltered accommodation perfectly. There was one particularly beautifully written passage where she observes the loss of the right to change your mind, which I found incredibly poignant and thought provoking.
I also thought the author expressed the jumbled incoherence of tangled memories with stunning sensitivity and frankness. Again, reminding me so vividly of my own Grandmother, who would mix a number of different stories from her own past. As a family, we could pick out elements of different stories she shared with us before, along with other bits we would now never really know. But to outsiders, it must have just appeared absurd gibberish, and as Florence tries to share something with her carers, the frustration of not being able to make yourself understood and believed was stark.
The most important thing though which I took from this book was, no matter how seemingly ordinary and small a life is, the impact you make on the people around you will continue to live on and spread down the years. As Florence reminisces and explores her past, we see with touching poignancy how her tiniest actions cause ripples in the lives of the people around her, without her ever knowing.
I could go on and on about how wonderful I found this book, as I related to observations, sentiments and scenes throughout. It felt personal to me, what I took from it and after I finished the final page I sat in silence for a long while thinking. About how we feel about the elderly, about my own grandmother and about the fact that every life has impact and one simple action can never define a whole person. I can not do the book justice with my review though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that you should read this book yourself.
(I read an advance proof courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.)