SECOND OPINION: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Review published on March 9, 2018.

This story is told in the first person by Florence Claybourne, known as Flo to her close friends (especially Elsie), who has dementia. She wants to go back and remember precious events and pull forward her rich memories but just can’t find and retrieve them.

The story starts with Flo being taken to hospital. She is matter of fact and quite wise as she tells of her life one month prior whilst living in sheltered accommodation.

Mainly via Flo’s voice, a poignant, funny, dry and entertaining story is told. There is the insight of somebody who is forthright and uncompromising trying to manage workarounds for her memory loss; how she holds her tongue in some situations despite her strong points of view or loss of recollection. She thinks she’s perfectly able to live independently, but how do you cover up the surprise of having a cupboard full of Battenbergs, which you cannot account for? Mystery runs through the story when Ronnie Butler, a nasty blast from the past who died under mysterious circumstances, is brought into the present when a suspicious doppelganger-like gentleman called Gabriel Price moves into the accommodation. This triggers a wave of fractured memories for Flo, with something important and tangible just waiting to be grasped and remembered. There is something she cannot shake off and endeavours to recollect. Elsie, her omnipresent friend, confident and guide, is always there to provide company and support her whenever it is needed.

There are the ups and downs of living in sheltered accommodation and the shenanigans around the staff and their perspective on how they need to operate to keep residents safe – even if this makes them somewhat controlling, benignly eroding the residents’ independence, thinking they know best. But the oldies push the barriers and assert their wishes and points of view, usually out manoeuvring the none too sharp sheltered accommodation staff.

All the characters in the book are distinctive and memorable in their own right. Flo is lovable despite her cranky ways. It has the air of a sitcom about it, but with a more sober undertone. A really great, entertaining, quality read, that offers something a bit different with the most wonderful characterisation and an endearing revelation at the end.

Sara Garland 5/5

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
The Borough Press 9780008196912 hbk Jan 2018

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