The synopsis to The Things We Keep had me intrigued with a tale of a young woman, Anna Forster, struck down with early on-set dementia. It was also an opportunity to try and widen my reading in 2016, I love crime fiction but I do occasionally need a change.
Immediately on starting this novel I was pleased to see that although the subject matter is grim, the author has injected a fair amount of humour which also gave me a real sense of who Anna was, far more than a diagnosis that’s for sure.
Anna moves into an assisted-living facility where many of the residents are considerably older than she is, all except one Luke who is afflicted with frontotemporal dementia which affects his speech and language skills and the two become close.
We also meet Eve, a formerly wealthy woman who takes a job at the home as a cook and cleaner because it is one way to keep her daughter Clementine at her school. Both these characters are a delight but I particularly warmed to Clementine who at aged just seven, is forced to adapt to a whole new way of life. With a mean girl in her class needling her this is something of a struggle! This felt like an accurate portrayal of a newly single mother desperate to do her best for her young daughter but juggling this with her own change of circumstance, never better witnessed than at the school gates.
While there is a moral dilemma at the heart of the book which had me questioning my viewpoint by putting myself in to different character’s shoes, the characters are the ones who made this book for me, and not just the main ones. There are lots of touching moments from the elderly married couple who are inseparable to the old man who is grumpy and the one who saves a seat for his wife, dead for fifty years. Despite being at the end of their life, the author gives a sense of something more than a bunch of people with nothing to offer, the wisdom that they offer each other and the main protagonists was a joy to read.
I was drawn easily and effortlessly drawn into the world at Rosalind House which we get to view in the present, from when Eve joins the staff, and the year before. This device sets up the situation which underpins the moral dilemma and gives us a real sense of how fast Anna is deteriorating. In the beginning she occasionally substitutes words when she can’t remember the right one – sleeping clothes for pyjamas, by the end of the book there are more substituted words than the right ones, a clever use of language which avoids endless repetition explaining how bad things have got.
All in all this was an engaging, touching and thoughtful book which could easily have descended into a well of sadness, but instead, made every point you’d expect but often with the lightest of touches.
I’d like to thank the publishers St Martin’s Press for my copy of this book for reviewing. The Things We Keep will be published on 19 January 2016.