I could not have picked a more perfect book to begin my 2018 reading year. I loved The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by the same author which I read a couple of years ago and I think this is even better. Although it is the first book I read in 2018, I am certain it will be in my and many other people’s Top Reads list come the end of the year. This is a book rainy days are made for, days when you can curl up and just savour the wonderful, insightful writing because once you start, trust me, you won’t want to put it down.
Florence has had a fall in her sheltered housing flat and as she lies on the floor, waiting to be found she reflects on her life. In between her memories, the reader also finds out about her more recent life experiences from Florence herself and staff members Handy Simon and Miss Ambrose. Florence is clearly living with some form of dementia and although it seems from others’ reactions that her condition may be deteriorating, Florence is quite adamant that she is not responsible for the strange things happening around her. As she says rather poignantly though, “I can’t find a memory I can trust”. Elsie is her best friend. Friends from their childhood days, she can always say just the right thing to make Florence feel better and she also knows some big secrets from the past.
As you can probably guess from that opening paragraph, I absolutely adored this book. It is full of characters you will take to your heart, characters who are fully rounded, have their flaws, are ordinary yet extraordinary at the same time. Florence is the one whose voice we hear most often and the character I loved the most. I had a soft spot for Handy Simon too though, a character who did not seem to have much self-worth at the beginning of the book but grew in confidence and self-belief throughout. The power of friendship and kindness is all too evident. Fellow resident Jack is another character whose kindness and belief in Florence helps her to believe in herself even if she can’t trust her memory so well any more.
There is so many layers to this book, not least of which are several mysteries: what happened to Beryl, Elsie’s sister, who exactly is Gilbert Price, what is the big secret Florence has been carrying all her life and who is responsible for all the strange things happening in her flat? It is not until the closing chapters, as the mysteries are resolved, that we see how seemingly insignificant moments mentioned earlier in the book are in fact all connected.
And that to me is the main message I took from the book – that we are all connected. As all the pieces of the story fall into place, like the jigsaw pieces on the front cover, each life is connected in so many ways to so many others. Each life, no matter how ordinary it seems, has a profound effect on so many others. In one of many passages I marked for its beautifully written perception, this conversation between Handy Simon and Florence sums it up. They are talking about a fossil which one of the care-home residents owns, but I feel it is equally relevant to the lives of the characters and indeed every one of our lives:
“Before this fossil was found….. it was still influential, wasn’t it? It changed the universe in some way. We just don’t know how…… And everything it influenced, all those things will change the universe in some way too. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the impact it made.” “No matter how long or short a time you are here, the world is ever so slightly different because you existed”
I hope I have convinced you to read this wonderful book. It’s about friendship and trust, valuing yourself, respecting others and finding your place in life. With wonderful, warm, sensitive writing Three Things About Elsie will provoke all kinds of emotions as you read and may leave you with a lump in your throat but also with a song in your heart.
My thanks to Ann Bissell at The Borough Press for my review copy of this book. It will be published on January 11th in hardback and ebook though the paperback won’t follow until next year. Don’t wait though, buy it now! It will be available in all good bookshops or you can order a copy online here: Three Things About Elsie
From the back of the book
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.