One of the prettiest covers of the year for me and one I saw lots of people talking about a few months ago, so much so that clearly I had bought it and then it just sat there, in the colourful book stack, on my bookshelves. What brought me to finally pick it up I do not remember but I’ll say this, I am glad I did. This was a great book, a great read, really tough to put down and an interesting story, old people do detective work! What’s not to like. Well I guess being old, dementia, the sadness that living a life can bring you. But that’s what I liked about it.
Florence is in her 80’s and living in sheltered housing, sheltered from what she asks? Her best friend, Elsie, does everything with her including eating and going to doctors appointments. Other than that though Florence is a bit of a loner and doesn’t like to socialise with the others too much. This gets her in trouble with the management and she is put on probation. But she hasn’t done anything wrong, has she?
One morning Florence sees a skip outside one of the flats as one of the former residents is removed from existence in the complex and the world. Photos that the people in them didn’t claim, gone in the skip. The new occupant of the flat has a name that doesn’t fit who Florence knows him to be, Ronnie. And she thought Ronnie died years ago, drowned. So if this is Ronnie, and it must be because he has the scar, then who did they bury?
Florence manages to secure the loyalty of another resident, general Jack, and the three of them start investigating how Ronnie came to be living here at the complex when, actually, he should be dead.
The journey takes Florence to some difficult places, she finds herself questioning her memories, searching for her recollections and remembering long lost moments of her life. There’s a rather fabulous trip to Whitby for the residents and a lot of police activity as old people are lost and old wounds are opened.
The author worked as a hospital doctor before specialising in psychiatry and in her acknowledgements she thanks her patients amongst other people. I think that experience in life has given her such a respectful and reflective way of dealing with the issues that old age brings but also of reflecting back to us, not YET old people, that old people aren’t stupid and likely just feel the same way as they did, always.
Within about three pages I had worked out what was going on and I spent the first quarter of the book being a bit annoyed about it to be honest, that the book was going to go on trying to trick me for a lot of pages. As I continued reading though I settled down into knowing that and thinking that actually I’m probably thinking a bit like Florence. Bless her.
I really loved all the characters in this book from Florence to Jack to the baddy Ronnie to the management at the sheltered accommodation, particularly Handy Simon who reads like a well thought out Autistic character. The author says that the point of the book for her is that every person we meet has an impact on our lives. Much like I think every book we read does.
What I really do not understand at all is how this book isn’t as popular as Eleanor Oliphant. This deals with similar issues like mental health and loneliness, subjects that are avoided in literature, particularly popular fiction. Perhaps it’s the old age thing? For me this was a much better book, much better characters, much more consistent throughout. And for the superficial amongst us, a much prettier cover!!!!
I think I can say this, if you liked Eleanor you’ll like this. If you didn’t like Eleanor (like me) you’ll love this. If you couldn’t give two hoots about Eleanor and are just looking for a recommended read from me can I push this book over the table to you? It’s an outside the box crime fiction story about old people running circles around the people that look down on them. You will probably cry. And you’ll likely come out of it wanting to visit Whitby and eat Battenberg.
Let me know what you think?