I’m going on my travels again and I’ve managed to accumulate a lot of reading material, blog tours postings, and reviews I should share for the month of September (when if I’m to judge by the amount of request for reviews I’ve got, there will be an avalanche of new books, brace yourselves!) so if you see a lot of book reviews, don’t worry. I’ll will be there, reading, editing (yes, I’m getting there with lots of help and I hope my book will be out before Christmas… Some early ARCs have gone to readers already. Bless them. )
So here comes one of my reviews. I really loved this book but I was waiting to share it until it was published. It’s been available in other countries and other languages for quite a while but well, here it is…
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen. We might all be dying but there’s no need to get gloomy about it
** THE INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON ** ‘
‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’
Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?
Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.
The indomitable Hendrik Groen – Holland’s unlikeliest hero – has become a cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands and now he and his famously anonymous creator are conquering the globe. A major Dutch bestseller, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.
Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old
‘Hendrik Groen’s account of daily life in a care home for the elderly pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and frank accounting of the trials of old age. Behind Hendrik’s light touch and grumpy-old-man persona is a story with a great deal of heart, and some important themes. Hendrik effortlessly incorporates the politics of aged care, from funding to euthanasia, into his personal story and offers his own acerbic insights. Anyone who has a friend or relative in a nursing home or retirement village, or who hopes to grow old with dignity themselves, will find much to reflect on’. Graeme Simsion, international bestselling author of The Rosie Project
‘There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen’. John Boyne, author of international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
‘Funny, tragic and sometimes heart rending’. Het Parool
‘Hendrik Groen is a heart-warming hero’. Trouw
‘With pungent phrasing Groen takes down life in a retirement home. Both charming and hilarious’ ****Leeuwarder Courant
‘Hendrik Groen is king. My mother (78) suffers from dementia. Doesn’t read a newspaper or magazine anymore, only old photo albums can grab her attention for longer than 5 minutes. Hendrik Groen made her laugh out loud’. Ray Kluun, author of Love Life
‘The tears came streaming down my face. From laughing so hard. I couldn’t stop grinning for three days’. Ouderenjournaal
‘Never a dull moment with my new BFF Hendrik Groen’. Read Shop, Hedel
‘It reminded me of a combination between The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Wonderful! Shame it’s finished already’. Arjen Broers, Bookshop Bruna
‘Heart-warming, funny and poignant. It’s about all aspects of life. EVERYBODY should read this’. Bookshop Stevens
Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The description of this book drew me in from the beginning as the protagonist and supposed diarist of the book is correct when he talks about the increased interest in old age pensioners and how they appear to be the subject of everything, from movies to laws. Whatever our age, as another one of the characters tells Hendrik, if you don’t know somebody with dementia (let’s change that to senior citizen) you’re sorely out of fashion. I didn’t realise at the time that the book had been a great success in the Netherlands and in many other countries (including Spain, where I was at the time). I’m not sure why it took so long to be published in an English version but I’m glad it finally did.
I have enjoyed the resurgence of movies with older protagonists, not only because of the original perspective given to the stories, but also because they provide a great chance to see (in most cases together) many of the actors and actresses one has learned to love over the years but who no longer fit into the usual bestselling production. This novel isn’t either the typical bestselling book. It’s not an action book or a thriller (as Hendrik says on a number of occasions, a traffic congestion in the residential home where he lives might be caused by too many people trying to use the lift at the same time with their walking aids, and going for a walk once a day is seen as a big adventure), it isn’t a hot romance (yes, there is romance but gentle and understated), a chick-lit book (the protagonist is a Dutch man who is 83 at the beginning of the book), or a paranormal or science-fiction offering. These are the secret writings of a man (although the true author has not been revealed and the book is classed as humour and fiction) in a residential home who, at the beginning of the year 2013, decides to start writing a diary, because having a goal, however small, helps keep depression and sad thoughts at bay. Despite what I said, there are adventures. He and some friends (some old, some recent, including a love interest) get together in an attempt at fighting apathy and enforced old-age and create the Old-But-Not-Dead club, and they set off on their adventures. There is also intrigue and spy missions (trying to get hold of a copy of the infamous regulations that seem to impede any fun or flexibility within the walls of the institution), there are sad moments (illnesses, both physical and mental, and death), political and social commentaries (of Dutch politics and international affairs, always sharp and mocking), and there are flashy vehicles (there are debates about the best mobility scooters and some driving mishaps).
Added to the varied and unforgettable plot elements are the characters. The book is narrated in the first-person by Henrik Groen. We only get tiny snippets of his previous life (sad events and circumstances that move us but he doesn’t dwell upon) but he has a penchant for observing and commenting on the everyday with a fresh, mocking and humorous eye, not devoid of tenderness. He might be getting on but the really old people are those around him. His loyalty to his friends (not withstanding his objective appraisals of their qualities and defects), his lack of self-pity and his self-deprecating attitude, always trying to see the funny side of things (and trying to remain optimistic), his generosity and willingness to help others no matter what his heart and mind say, and his willingness to fight for what is right and to never hide from unpleasant, embarrassing or difficult subjects (i.e. euthanasia) make him unique and endear him to the reader. He’s a hero and the cast of friends, bit players, enemies and even the dog and the poor fishes (sorry, you must read the book to know what I mean) create a microcosm that we can’t help but care for.
The book is an easy read, and it adopts British English colloquialisms and sayings that would fit in perfectly with somebody of Hendrik’s age (if he was from the UK).
I loved the book. I laughed, cried, and it made me think: about living every day to the maximum, about having goals, about the future, about relatives and also, about myself. I hope if I get to that age there’ll be a Hendrik wherever I end up. (Or I’ll be like Hendrik). A fabulous read.
I’m sure you’ll see it everywhere, if I’m to judge by its distribution in Spain, but I thought I’d recommend it early anyway.
Thanks again to NetGalley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for the early copy, thanks to you all for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment, and of course, if you want a great read, CLICK!