Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Red Address Book – Sofia Lundberg

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

When she was a child her father bought her a beautiful red address book and Doris faithfully kept a note of the addresses of those who crossed her path throughout her life. At the grand old age of ninety-six it is sad but perhaps not wholly unsurprising that many of the names in the book are crossed out with the word ‘dead’ written against them.

The Red Address Book
tells the story of one woman’s rich life honing in on some of the names and addresses held within the address book.

Doris lives in Stockholm and her only living family is Jenny, her Grand-Niece and her family, who live in America. Doris is not doing so well and has devoted some of her waking hours to penning the story of her life to Jenny, to keep those names in the address book alive.

I loved this book, the tone spot on for an elderly woman who has lived, loved and made good choices, and bad, and learn to live with them. I know I sound old myself but it is simply so refreshing to read books about people of this generation before everyone had to be a victim of something or another. Here we have some of those old-fashioned qualities that if I were Prime Minister I would insist were some sort of rite to becoming a fully-fledged adult. Doris has lived. After the death of her father she was more or less pushed out of the home by her mother to go and earn some money as a maid. Did Doris dwell on this rejection for the rest of her life? Did she hell! She recognised the hurt it caused at the time, and moved on treating it as a passing incident in her life, her springboard to becoming a living mannequin in Paris, rather than a hurt to be nursed for her remaining eighty odd years. During the course of the book we see Doris face a multitude of situations as she criss-crosses between countries, lives through a war, heartbreak and more and each one is faced square on, no matter what.

In conjunction with these adventures, Doris is portrayed as a ‘real’ woman, she is unwilling to do exactly what she is told by her caregivers and hospital staff, if it doesn’t make sense to her. After all this is a woman who has mastered skype to keep in touch with her family, she does not need to be told when to go to sleep as if she was a child! But at the same time she is accepting that her end is coming near and so is portrayed as a mixture of toughness and vulnerability or in other words like a real woman who has lived a full life.

I did have a lump in my throat towards the closure of this book although I’m pleased to report that it didn’t have the feeling of overtly playing with the emotions and nor did we have the stereotypical cantankerous elderly woman instead we have a thoughtful piece that will invariably cause its reader to recall many of the paths that have crossed their own, briefly or otherwise, and for whom few will be recorded in our lives particularly with the demise of written records.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publisher HarperCollins UK and the Sofia Lundberg who allowed me to experience some of the highs and lows of Doris’s life by allowing providing me with a copy of The Red Address Book. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 8 January 2019
Publisher: The Borough Press
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
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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

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Exit – Helen FitzGerald

Psychological Suspense 4*'s
Psychological Suspense
4*’s

Catherine, a lover of social media, unemployed and drifting is finally driven to get a job as a way of avoiding another unpleasant evening meeting with her Mum where she would be presented with her failure following items for discussion, and quite possibly, a list!

The first of Catherine’s lists appeared when she was aged five:

  1. Make three new friends at school and ask them if they’d like to come over to play some time
  2. Write a story for me.
  3. Put your dirty clothes in the washing basket in the utility room (This, Catherine, is something I would like you to do from now on)
  4. Make your own breakfast – cereal and milk. (This is also something I’d like you to do from now on.)
  5. Do at least three kind things for others.

and they continued every Sunday until she left school.

The job Catherine managed to bag was at Dear Green nursing home where the most appealing of the residents is 82-year-old Rose. Rose has dementia and appears to be thrown back to an event that occurred when she was 10 and an evacuee with her sister at a farm. Rose is also a famous author and illustrator with a series of books to her name which features a brave little girl called Tilly, books the young Catherine had loved.

The early scenes of the book are very engaging, while Catherine is young and thoughtless she has some good qualities and the obvious mystery is what Rose is re-enacting when she is gripped by the memory from childhood, but also she is desperate to bring attention to the home, Room 7 is locked and Rose alludes to danger but is unable to articulate in words what she is so frightened of.

As more characters are introduced and then layered with individual characteristics, I was charmed by the captivating dialogue between Catherine and some of the residents, and slowly she appears to alter her opinion on her previously frivolous life and become more measured in her approach to her work, but this soon runs in tandem to something altogether darker and more disturbing.

I loved The Cry , despite the fact that it made me feel very uncomfortable, and had half-expected another scenario where all the characters had varying degrees of unpleasantness, but Helen FitzGerald is clearly not a one-trick pony. I can’t tell you any more about the plot without spoiling the story for others, but I am able to confirm that the characterisation is excellent with my opinion on some, particularly Catherine’s mother, swayed by the revelations that the author timed perfectly. Along with this the author has an expert touch cleverly building the tension while still keeping the overall feel of the story intact and the plot, well that was hole free!

In a way this story inevitably reminded me of Elizabeth is Missing , but in contrast to that book Rose retained control with less emphasis on the limitations of her illness as a whole, instead focussing in the long ago event that had such an impact on her life.  However like Elizabeth she had a mystery in the past and one in the present and only at the point of revelation does it all become clear.

Another winner from this talented author and I want to say a big thank you to the publishers Faber and Faber for allowing me to read this book prior to the publication date of 5 February 2015