All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

on January 15, 2016

Things We KeepThe Things We Keep
Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Rosalind House might not be the first place you’d expect to find new love and renewal, but within the walls of this assisted living facility two women have their lives changed forever.

Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at only thirty-eight years of age, knows that her twin, Jack, has chosen Rosalind House because another young resident, Luke, lives there. As if, Anna muses, a little companionship will soften the unfairness of her fate.

Eve Bennett also comes to Rosalind house reluctantly. Once a pampered, wealthy wife, she is now cooking and cleaning to make ends meet.

Both women are facing futures they didn’t expect. With only unreliable memories to guide them, they have no choice but to lean on and trust something more powerful. Something closer to the heart.

You know how sometimes you hear about a book and you just know that it’s going to be for you? That it’s going to be something that you connect with and will make you feel things? This for me, was one of those books. I read and really liked Sally Hepworth’s debut novel The Secrets of Midwives last year so when I heard about this one I knew that I was definitely going to be adding it to my TBR. I read it one sitting and found it almost impossible to put down.

Anna Forster is 38 which is disturbingly only 4 years older than I am and she has been diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s which is genetic. She’s reached the stage where she needs care or help in day to day life but the only facilities that really cater for people in her situation are aged care facilities. Her twin brother Jake chooses Rosalind House because of Luke, a man of 40 who resides there who has a condition somewhat similar to Anna’s. He believes that she will do better having someone around her that is her own age. I felt an immediate affinity with Anna, even though we really had very little in common. I tried to place myself in her shoes, to be given awareness of exactly what it is that she would be losing and applied it to my own life and it was really quite heartbreaking. Anna narrates part of the novel and the reader experiences her decline both through the eyes of others as well as through her own storytelling.

The other parts of the narration come from Eve and her daughter Clementine. Eve was a society wife, disgraced by her husband’s involvement in a Ponzi scheme. Left with nothing she takes a job as the cook at Rosalind House because the address of the facility allows her daughter to remain enrolled at her school. Eve becomes entranced by the story of Anna and Luke and the bond between them. Her young daughter Clementine is the victim of bullying at school and she spends quite a bit of time with the residents of Rosalind House after school while her mother is working. Both Eve and Clementine face ostracisation from their previous social circles because of what her husband did and Eve bears the brunt of a lot of people’s anger as there is that age-old question: how did she not know what her husband was doing?

I felt for Eve in her situation too, because she was an innocent party and she suffered too, losing all of her possessions, her home and her husband. She was forced to move into an apartment that barely housed herself and Clementine and take a job that required her to do more than the description entailed in order to keep them going. She has the added stress of Clementine’s school situation as her daughter faces what is perhaps the worst type of bullying: adult sanctioned and encouraged, where children repeat what they have been told or overheard, using it to ruthlessly torment her. She’s 6, far too young to understand what has happened and is also a true innocent party. Instead of facing sympathy and understanding she is shamed and shunned, taunted cruelly and then reprimanded when she lashes out in response.

I have to admit, I don’t know a lot about dementia/Alzheimer’s and my life has thankfully been relatively untouched by it, barring a few more distant relatives and I’ve never known anyone or known of anyone who knew someone with the younger-onset variety. I’ve read one book about it before but the character was around 50-ish, so older than Anna from this novel but still very young in terms of dementia. So I’m for sure no expert but this definitely had such a feel of authenticity and reality to it, including how Anna’s brother Jack felt. We are never given Jack’s point of view, the author chooses to let the reader see him through Anna and Eve’s eyes and I feel like this worked really well. Anna can see Jack’s emotions at times but lacks the ability to process them or even relate them to her situation. Eve sees a brother trying to do the best thing for his sister, but feels as though he is ultimately making the wrong choices for her. Eve finds herself utterly transfixed by the bond that develops between Anna and Luke and risks everything she can to facilitate it. I think it gives her something to believe in, shows her that even in dire situations, love and beauty can be found. Rosalind House opens Eve up to all sorts of new experiences and she evolves in her time there. Because of this, so also does Clementine.

This book is written with beauty and sensitivity, it’s a compelling story and a heartbreaking rendition of love. Sally Hepworth is going to be one of those auto-read authors for me.

8/10

Book #5 of 2016

AWWC2016

The Things We Keep is the 3rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

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