Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Florence Claybourne is in her eighties and lives in sheltered accommodation named Cherry Tree. One afternoon she falls and contemplates the events of the previous few weeks, and her life. Elsie is Florence’s best friend, the one who keeps her on the straight and narrow, even more important now that she has been threatened with expulsion due to her behaviour.

It was called sheltered accommodation, but I’d never quite been able to work out what we were being sheltered from. The world was still out there. It crept in through the newspapers and the television. It slid between the cracks of other people’s conversation and sang out from mobile telephones. We were the ones hidden away, collected up and ushered out of sight, and I often wondered if it was actually the world that was being sheltered from us.

In some ways this book reminds me of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, a book I found too hard to properly enjoy because reading a story about a woman with dementia when my own mother was suffering of this awful disease, meant that I made unfair comparisons with the real-life situation whereas the book was by its very nature fictional. I have a feeling that if I’d read this book at the same time, I might have drawn similar comparisons. I mention this because I firmly believe that each of us brings our own life’s experiences, our hopes and our fears with us to each book we read, and because of that our take on the story is bound to be slightly different. Fortunately I found this a charming read albeit one with a solid mystery which kept me entertained and softened the sometimes harsher intrusive thoughts about the realities of old age.

Florence is clearly in the early stages of dementia but she’s a fighter. When a man she recognises from some sixty years before turns up in the same sheltered housing complex, a man she believes died all those years ago, she’s switched on enough to try to find some proof. With the help of Elsie and the brilliantly portrayed General Jack, she finds out the man’s name is Gabriel Price although once she finally remembers, she believes he is in fact is Ronnie Butler. What significance Ronnie Butler played in Florence’s life is very gradually revealed during the time she lays on the floor of her flat, waiting for help and looking at ‘all manner of nonsense under that sideboard.’

The characters make this book, Florence and her friend Elsie are a wonderful double act with some gentle, wry humour to lift the spirits. The Manager of the care home Miss Bissell who seems to need to lie down a lot of the time, when she isn’t doing Sudoku. Miss Bissell wisely lets Miss Ambrose, one of our third person narrators, a supervisor at Cherry Tree, have the difficult conversations, even if she’s rarely allowed to make any decisions. Through Miss Ambrose’s eyes we get to see a different view of Florence. A woman who is decidedly not keen on joining in with the other residents, a woman who talks or quite often shouts to herself and someone who buys twenty three Battenberg cakes that are stacked high in the sideboard, a fact Florence staunchly denies.  The other third person narrator is the adorable Handy Simon, the handyman who over the course of the book has a leap forward in terms of character development from a shy young man welded to the image of his hero fireman father to a man who begins to imagine, and realise. that there is a world outside the facts he’s been so attached to.

With the time ticking away while Florence lies on the floor, imagining who her saviour will be, the story is bought up to the present, although the truth of course is buried deep in the past.

One thing that can’t be denied is that this is a story that will imprint itself on your mind, the language is absolutely beautiful, the observations knife-sharp so although the story on the surface is seemingly gentle, has a hard kernel at the centre which made spending some time with the residents of Cherry Tree an absolute delight.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers HaperCollins UK who allowed me to read Three Things About Elsie ahead of publication on 11 January 2018, this unbiased review is my thank you to them and the hugely talented Joanna Cannon.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
No of Pages: 464
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

34 thoughts on “Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

  1. I’m reading this now. Having also lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s and having worked in elderly care for many years I’m finding it incredibly poignant. Loving it so far.

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    1. Isn’t it just? Fortunately those incredibly raw feelings of a few years back have softened and I was able to appreciate the observational writing rather than getting angry about the fictionalisation of a distressing illness for all concerned. I loved it too.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that is the unknown quantity between a book and its reader – our own experiences, and the point in time we read a book can impact the read dramatically. That said, I loved this book for the characters and of course the mystery.

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  2. I like the sound of this one and stories that feature characters dealing with Alzheimers/dementia are very heartrending to me. Like you, I was not able to read these sorts of stories while my parents were suffering from those illnesses. However, since they have both been gone for several years, I find that I do like them, relate to them, and have also recommended various ones to others who might be especially touched by them. It’s a hard thing to see your loved ones in this way, but I still maintain that, for me, there were bits of joy during that time. And now, I have a very empathetic heart for the families of sufferers and for the individuals themselves. I reach out when I can. I’ll watch for this book, Cleo and hugs to you and anyone who has loved ones with dementia.

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    1. Thank you Kay – I read Elizabeth is Missing at a very bad point in My Mother’s decline and to my surprise although what followed was sad, she was no longer frightened which made finding spots of joy easier. Although she only died last summer my shock and anger at the change in her have now softened to a quieter hue so that I was far more able to read this book for the fiction it was. Definitely worth a read this is one author who really draws incredible characters.

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  3. I couldn’t possibly agree more, Cleo. The timing of when you read a book, and what’s going on in your personal life at that time, can make all the difference in your reaction to that book. This one sounds like a powerful read, and I’m you found the characters to be so strong.

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    1. Thank you Margot, I felt it worth mentioning because I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this anywhere near as much (because of the gap between the fiction and my reality) a few years back. The book is worth reading for the characters alone so it’s even better that the mystery is a solid one, even if it takes a while because of Florence’s memory to eke out the details.

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  4. I know that everyone brings their own experiences to reading, and a person might dismiss a wonderful book – or praise an unworthy book as a result. The cathartic elements of time do a lot to dull pain’s sharper edges.
    I believe that I would enjoy this title a lot (it has been twelve years since I lost my Mum). I’m so pleased that you like this author’s characterization as that element of writing is of paramount importance to me. I do want to read her other book first. “The trouble with goats and sheep”.
    Great review, as always, Cleo.

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    1. So true! The characters are key to this book – I have Joanna Cannon’s first book to read too but decided to start with this one – glad I did I’m now in high anticipation for The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.

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  5. I’ve been eyeing this book…I love books about the elderly, those suffering from dementia, or even those who are misunderstood. I was a big fan of Elizabeth is Missing, even though it would be a difficult read if experiencing similar events in one’s life.

    Thanks for sharing. I must add this one to my list.

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  6. This really appeals to me. I totally agree we bring our own experiences to the books we read. I lost a beloved aunt to dementia – it was a few years ago now so I think I could read this now without the experience taking over.

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    1. I think my problem with the first book I mentioned was the gap between reality and fiction, and I was angry. This time around the shock of the change has faded and Mum is now in a better place and I was able to enjoy the excellent writing and accept wholeheartedly that this is a work of fiction and sadly life isn’t quite the same. The characters in the book were wonderful

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting! The premise reminds me of Cream Cracker Under the Settee – a monologue by Alan Bennett starring the wonderful Thora Hird. Might be before your time. It didn’t have a mystery as such, but it was about her looking over her life as she lay on the floor after a fall and was waiting for someone to rescue her. I really want to watch it again now… 🙂

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  8. I totally agree with you that everyone brings their own experiences, biases, etc to each book they read-how could we not? That’s why book blogs are so important because we get to know each other’s interests, so we can better tell if we would like the book ourselves…

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  9. Wonderful review, Cleo. Totally agree that our life experiences influence our views of books, which accounts in part for differences in taste I suppose. I’m glad you were able to enjoy this even though it hit close to home. It does sound intriguing.

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  10. You make excellent points about bringing our own experiences with us when we read. I read Elizabeth Is Missing a few years ago. Because my parents are in their nineties and dealing with many difficult issues, I’m drawn to stories about the elderly. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Just loved this and how the characters are written with such compassion and empathy. I honestly felt at times as if I watching it all happen on the big screen and especially with the occasional humorous quipps and its delightful English flavour. Speaking of which, I don’t know that cake at all, but it looks perfect to accompany afternoon tea!

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