Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE FREQUENCY OF US: A BBC2 Between the Covers book club pick by Keith Stuart (@keefstuart) (@LittleBrownUK) A story with magic, imagination, a hopeful ending and a big heart

Dear all:

I bring you the review of a new book by an author I’ve become a fan of in recent years.

The Frequency of Us by Keith Stuart

The Frequency of Us: A BBC2 Between the Covers book club pick by Keith Stuart 

A BBC2 BETWEEN THE COVERS BOOK CLUB PICK

‘A fascinating, beautiful, heartwarming novel. It kept me gripped from the very first chapter’ — BETH O’LEARY

In Second World War Bath, young, naïve wireless engineer Will meets Austrian refugee Elsa Klein: she is sophisticated, witty and worldly, and at last his life seems to make sense . . . until, soon after, the newly married couple’s home is bombed, and Will awakes from the wreckage to find himself alone.

No one has heard of Elsa Klein. They say he was never married.

Seventy years later, social worker Laura is battling her way out of depression and off medication. Her new case is a strange, isolated old man whose house hasn’t changed since the war. A man who insists his wife vanished many, many years before. Everyone thinks he’s suffering dementia. But Laura begins to suspect otherwise . . .

From Keith Stuart, author of the much-loved Richard & Judy bestseller A Boy Made of Blocks, comes a stunning, emotional novel about an impossible mystery and a true love that refuses to die.

‘Enthralling, a real thing of beauty. Dazzling’ — JOSIE SILVER

‘The Frequency of Us is a novel with a bit of everything: a sweeping love story, wonderfully complex characters, and a sprinkling of the supernatural. I loved it, and know it’ll stay with me for some time’ — CLARE POOLEY

‘A complete joy! An intelligent, intricate and emotive mystery’ — LOUISE JENSON

https://www.amazon.com/Frequency-Us-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B088WVN28J/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frequency-Us-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B088WVN28J/

https://www.amazon.es/Frequency-Us-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B088WVN28J/

Author Keith Stuart

About the author:

KEITH STUART, author of A Boy Made of Blocks, is games editor at the Guardian. He started out as writer and features editor on the highly influential magazine Edge, before going freelance in 2000 to cover games culture for publications such as The Official PlayStation MagazinePC Gamer, and T3, as well as investigating digital and interactive art for Frieze. He also writes about music, film and media for the Guardian, and is a regular on the Tech Weekly podcast. He is married with two sons.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/441866.Keith_Stuart

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown, and Company UK (Clara Díaz in particular) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed Keith Stuart’s previous two novels, both wonderful: A Boy Made of Blocks (check here) and Days of Wonder (you can find the review here), and I was pleased to be offered the opportunity to read this one as well. Although in some ways this is a pretty different reading experience, less reassuring and more puzzling at times, I’ve enjoyed it as well.

It is difficult to talk about the plot of this novel without revealing too much of what happens, and although this is not a conventional mystery, a lot of the story hinges on what is real and what is not, on different versions of events and of people’s lives, on how the past makes us what we are, and on how a small decision can change many things and send our lives in totally different directions. The story is set in the historical city of Bath, in two different eras, in 2008 (the present, as far as the novel is concerned) and during WWII (mostly 1942). There are many themes explored in this novel: the nature of memory, depression and anxiety, PTSD, the changes in the city of Bath over the years, old-age care, wartime (WWII) in the UK, and the experience of German/Austrian refugees there, the development of radio technology, family relationships, psychological abuse, love in wartime… There are strange happenings in the book that at times can make us think of a paranormal element, although they can also be explained away in totally rational ways (almost), and there is also a science-fiction background (very light on the science part) that might feel almost an afterthought (but it probably is anything but).

When trying to come up with a category or definition that truly fitted my reading experience I only came up with movies and plays that popped into my mind as I read, but I wouldn’t say that is because they are closely related. In any case, here they go, in case they might give you a clue: Frequency (a movie from 2000, where radios played an important part and different generations managed to communicate), Sliding Doors, Match Point (those two about the effect a small decision can have), and J.B. Priestley’s time plays, particularly two I’ve watched: An Inspector Calls, and Time and the Conways.

Ultimately, this is a book about two people, Will (an old man when we meet him first, living alone and holding on to a love story nobody else seems to think was ever real), and Laura (a woman in her late twenties), who seemingly have nothing in common but quickly connect. Laura, who suffers from anxiety and depression as a result of years of psychological abuse from her father (we come to learn some of the reasons for his behaviour later, but that is no justification), has to visit Will for work, and trying to confirm his life story, one that doesn’t seem to match facts, gives her a reason to live. In the process of trying to learn about him, she gains confidence, confronts some truths about her life and her family, and learns to trust in herself. The connection between these two people, who never felt they quite belonged in their current lives, becomes clearer as the novel progresses.

Apart from the two main characters, who narrate the story in the first person each one in a different time frame (and Stuart is as good as ever at getting inside of the characters’ minds and making us experience both, Laura’s anxiety symptoms, her insecurity, and her dread, and Wills’ sense of wonder and excitement on meeting Elsa and falling in love with her), we also have Elsa Klein, a wonderful character, colourful, vibrant, magical, who haunts much of the novel, and whose voice we also hear, if only occasionally, and many other secondary characters (Laura’s boss, her mother, her father, Will’s neighbours and his friends from youth…) who play smaller parts but are also convincingly and realistically portrayed.

The novel flows well. The descriptions of Bath in the past and in the present don’t disrupt the narrative, giving it, instead, an anchor and a privileged setting that help carry the story along. The action takes place along different historical times, but these are clearly indicated in the novel and aren’t confusing to readers, and although some of the events are not easy to explain, this is not due to the way the story is told. The love story between Will and Elsa is very moving, and I was touched by the story and on the verge of tears more than once. I highlighted so much of the novel that I’d find it difficult to choose only one or two quotes. I recommend future readers check a sample of the book to see if it would be a good fit for their taste.

I’ve talked about mysterious goings-on when referring to the plot, and there are some false endings, when you think that is it and feel disappointed (at least I did), but don’t worry, it is not. I know some readers weren’t totally convinced by the ending, and well, I’m still thinking about it (and will probably be thinking about it for a long time), but I liked it. I won’t go into suspension of disbelief, etc., etc. Yes, depending on how you look at it, it might not make sense from a conventional point of view, but that is not what this novel is about.

In sum, this is another great novel by Keith Stuart, perhaps his most ambitious to date, where he goes exploring not only historical fiction, but also speculative Physics, the nature of time and memory, multiverses, enduring love, and a world full of wonderful characters. If you need a story with a little bit of magic, imagination, a hopeful ending, and a lot of heart, I recommend it.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin (@AnneGriffin_) A gorgeous and deeply touching book #WhenAllIsSaid

Dear all:

I love this book, and I hope you will too.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When All is Said by Anne Griffin.

Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime.

‘A hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner.’ Donal Ryan

‘An extraordinary novel, a poetic writer, and a story that moved me to tears.’ John Boyne

‘I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.’

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.

Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.

‘This is how you tell a story’ Cecelia Ahern

‘Beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, and a character you love from the off’ Kit de Waal

When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel’ John Banville

‘Masterful storytelling’ Graham Norton

https://www.amazon.com/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“There’s something special here.” ―John Boyne, New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“This is how you tell a story.” –Cecelia Ahern, New York Times bestselling author of PS, I Love You

“When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel.” ―John Banville, New York Times bestselling author of Time Pieces and Man Booker Prize award-winning author of The Sea 

“In the twilight of his long and eventful life, Irishman Maurice Hannigan still possesses the deep and mellow voice that his grandmother once told him ‘could melt icebergsa voice that debut author Anne Griffin renders with wit, verve, and endearing irascibility. When All Is Said captures the texture of a night catching up with an old friendthe pleasures and comforts, the stories and surprisesone that you never want to end, and all the more bittersweet because you know, of course, that it must.” ―Kathleen Rooney, bestselling author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

“Anne Griffin’s debut novel is a must read. Beautifully observed, masterful story telling – stunning!” ―Graham Norton, award-winning author

When All Is Said is lovely. I’m a sucker for structure and the conception of this novel, told around five toasts is just wonderful, it gives you that sense of a whole life, of someone accounting for themselves and their decisions, it takes a firm grip and draws us in. It is beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, a lonely man truthfully wrought and a character you love from the off, in spite of his flaws or maybe because of them.” ―Kit de Waal, bestselling author of My Name is Leon

“Maurice Hannigan is one of those rare and unforgettable characters whose lives we enter, inhabit for a time all too brief, and emerge from deeply changed. Anne Griffin is a writer with a bright, bright future.” ―National Book Award finalist Janet Peery

“A deceptively powerful tale. Beneath the surface of seemingly simple lives lie stunning stories of love, heartbreak, humor, hope, tragedy, regret, and―most of all―humanity.” ―Viola Shipman, international bestselling author of The Summer Cottage and The Charm Bracelet

“When All Is Said is a hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner. Maurice is a fabulous character, wonderfully flawed and completely engaging; his voice is familiar and real, full of sadness and regret and defiance, and unexpected tenderness.” ―Donal Ryan, award-winning author of The Spinning Heart

“It is difficult to believe that When All Is Said is a first novel, as Anne Griffin displays such an assured hand at locating and maintaining the voice of our lead character, Maurice Hannigan. An old widower, Hannigan picks a night at the local pub and toasts the five people who influenced his life in the most important ways, and, in the process, gives an oral first person history of his own life―both the truthful and the delusional. With an impeccable eye, Anne Griffin picks out details from seemingly-unimportant moments in a life that become so much more in her capable hands. Each toast brings a new facet of Hannigan’s life into focus, sometimes shining a light on things he would rather keep buried deep within himself, and the result is quite lovely. I truly felt as if I were in a country pub, sitting with the county raconteur, and I enjoyed his company immensely!” ―Bill Carl, Wellesley Books

“The Irish prequel of A Man Called Ove” ―Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

“Griffin’s portrait of an Irish octogenarian provides a stage for…the course of one memorable night.”Kirkus

Author Anne Griffin
Author Anne Griffin

About the author:

Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.

Anne’s debut novel ‘When All Is Said’ will be published by Sceptre in the UK and Ireland on 24th January, 2019 and by Thomas Dunne Books in the US and Canada on the 5th March, 2019. It will also be published by Rowohlt Verlag in Germany, Delcourt in France, by Harper Collins Holland in the Netherlands, by Wydawnictwo Czarna in Poland, and by Tyto Alba in Lithuania.

https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Griffin/e/B07FWTQQQV

annegriffinwriter.com

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sceptre for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a beautiful novel. Its structure is simple and so is the plot. Written in the first person, this is the story of a man, Maurice Hannigan, a widower, who has come to a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. Having made that decision, it has come the time to explain why he has decided what he has. The novel is structured around his conversation with his son, Kevin, who lives in the USA and is not there in person; therefore it becomes a monologue, with an intended audience of one. We, the readers, act as his son’s stand-ins. Maurice, as we soon learn, has never been the talking kind, so this is a bit of a departure for him, probably because of the time of his life and because he is not eye-to-eye with the person he is addressing.

Maurice has booked the best room in the hotel and is drinking five toasts to the people who have had the most impact in his life. In the process of talking about them and their influence, we get to hear about his life and what made him who he is. He chooses carefully his drinks, measures his words, and also the mementos he has kept. He drinks ale and also his preferred drink, whisky, and shares photographs, a pipe, a coin, and plenty of memories. He toasts to his brother, who died of TB when he was very young, always protected him and was his role model; to the daughter who never was and has always remained present for him; to his wife’s sister, who spent most of her life in psychiatric hospitals, took to him from the first and played an important role in solving an interesting mystery; to his son, who always had different dreams but tried hard to keep in touch; and to his wife, the one and only, the person he cannot live without.

Through his toasts we learn a lot about Maurice, his world, and the changes in Ireland through the years: when he was young life was harsh for farmers, the owners of the big house could behave as if they owned the people around them, school was hard for those who could not learn at the normal rhythm, and a family feud could last for years. Ireland moves with the times, and we hear about his change of circumstances, but he finds it difficult to let go of his wish for revenge and his resentments, of his low self-confidence because he never did well with books (later on in life he realises he suffers from dyslexia), and especially, of his grief and bereavement. He has suffered many losses through life, and he has many regrets, although he has also done some good things, intentionally or not.

Maurice feels real and very familiar, and I think most readers will be reminded of somebody they know. He is not the most sympathetic character at first sight, although he has gone through a lot, and some of his decisions are harsh and mean-spirited. During the book we get to understand what has made him as he is and it is difficult not to feel touched by his narrative, even if we don’t have much in common with him. There are plenty of family secrets revealed, and he learns to let go of the hatred he held for most of his life. The author writes beautifully, and without using complex language manages to convey true feeling and emotions. She gives her character a recognisable and true voice, dry and sharp, with touches of black humour and always understated, even when talking about those dearest to him. There is a beautiful love story at the heart of this novel, and it is very difficult not to feel moved by it. As for the ending… I won’t discuss it in detail, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to most readers, although what might be surprising is how we feel about it by then.

Although the author is well-known, this is her first novel, and it is a thing of beauty, poetic and sincere. Here I share some examples of her writing:

It’s an awful thing, to witness your mother cry. You cannot cure nor mend nor stick a plaster on.

Forty-nine years ago, I met Molly, and only for fifteen minutes. But she has lived in this dilapidated heart of mine ever since.

I watched her skin survive the years, softly, folding upon itself. I touched it often, still hopelessly loving every bit of her, every line that claimed her, every new mark that stamped its permanency.

Loneliness, that fecker again, wreaking havoc on us mortals. It’s worse than any disease, gnawing away at our bones as we sleep, plaguing our minds when awake.

These past two years have been rotten. I’ve felt the ache of her going in my very bones. Every morning, every hour of every day I’ve dragged her loss around with me. The worst thing has been the fear that I’ll wake one morning and she’ll be gone from my memory forever, and that, son, that, I just can’t do.

This is a gorgeous book that touches on important subjects and deep feelings without going over the top and being sugary sweet. It is not a page turner plot-wise, and there isn’t much action (other than in some of the memories), so it will not suit readers who are looking for a fast plot. But anybody who loves a character-driven novel, enjoys savouring the quality and poetry of good writing and is looking for new authors will have a field day. I am going to follow Anne Griffin’s career with interest, and I expect to hear great things from her.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher and to the author for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview ON THE BRIGHT SIDE by Hendrik Groen (@PenguinUKBooks) The Old-But-Not-Dead Club strikes again. A truly inspiring read, whatever your age.

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that I had been looking forward to for a while. Some of you might remember my review of the first book but…

On the Bright Side. The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen
On the Bright Side. The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen

‘A funny but also touching diary praised for its wit and realism’ BBC Radio 4 Front Row

The Old-But-Not-Dead Club return, in the sequel to the INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen83 ¼ Years Old, bringing with them some life-affirming lawlessness.

Chaos will ensue as 85-year-old Hendrik Groen is determined to grow old with dignity: to rise up against the care home director. NO more bingo. NO more over- boiled vegetables. NO more health and safety.

85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his custard cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.

But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .

He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.

Praise for Hendrik Groen

‘A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on’ Graeme Simsion

‘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

‘I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more’ David Suchet

‘Thoughtful, anxious and gruff… Laced with humour’ The Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday

‘Amusing [and] wickedly accurate’ ***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express

‘Highly entertaining … a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing’ Daily Express

‘Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters’ Cathy Rentzenbrink, Stylist

‘Hendrik pens an exposé of his care home. This geriatric Adrian Mole made me laugh and think. Terrific’ Fanny Blake, Woman and Home

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bright-Side-Hendrik-Groen-ebook/dp/B074R9K8Q1/

https://www.amazon.com/Bright-Side-Hendrik-Groen-ebook/dp/B074R9K8Q1/

Editorial review:

Review

Amusing [and] wickedly accurate … I was constantly put in mind of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, another comi-tragedy concerning the tyranny of institutions of the unwanted. Enjoy Groen’s light touch but do not be fooled by it. We live in an ageing society. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is a handbook of resistance for our time (***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express)

A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on (Graeme Simsion)

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)

I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more (David Suchet)

Thoughtful, anxious and gruff… Laced with humour (Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday)

Highly entertaining … a delightful and touching saga of one man’s way of coping with old age … we may assume that Hendrik Groen is a character of fiction. But it is a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing (Daily Express)

A joy to read, as much concerned with friendship and dignity as it is with the debilitating effects of aging … An entertaining and uplifting story of a man in the winter of his days, stoic in the face of bureaucratic nonsense and an unabashed need to wear a nappy. Imagined or not, this is the diary of someone who wants nothing more than to be allowed see out his days with dignity and respect. It’s not too much to ask, really, is it? (John Boyne Irish Times)

Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters (Cathy Rentzenbrink Stylist)

Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old ()

Very funny (Jeremy Paxman Financial Times)

From the Inside Flap

85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.

But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .

He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

A while back I read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old (check my review here) and loved it. I was on the lookout for the next one, and when I saw the next one was available for download at NetGalley I did not hesitate. It has now been published and I could not pass the chance to share my review.

Hendrik explains what has happened since his last diary (yes, he is older now) and decides to write his diary for another year, as a way to keep his brain going. He is now 85 and he needed some time to get over some of the sad events of the last book. But the Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong, with new members and plans, including regularly exploring international cuisine (more or less), a short holiday abroad, and an attempt at local (extremely local) politics. Hendrik’s voice is as witty and observant as it was in the first book, although there is perhaps a grittier and darker note (he is feeling low, everything is getting tougher and unfortunately, life gets harder as the year goes along). But not all is doom and gloom and there are very funny moments, as well as some very sad ones. His comments about politics and world events, always seen from an elderly population’s perspective, are sharp and clear-sighted and will give readers pause. Some of them are local and I suspect I was not the only one who did not know who many of the people where or what anecdotes he referred to at times (I must admit that although I know a bit about Dutch painters, I know little about their politics or music, for example), but even if we cannot follow all the references in detail, unfortunately, they are easily translatable to social and political concerns we are likely to recognize, wherever we live. Funding cuts, social problems, concerns about health and social care, crime, terrorism, global warming feature prominently, although sometimes with a very peculiar twist.

The secondary characters are as wonderful and varied as in the previous book. Some of them have moved on (physically, mentally, or both), and we get to know better some of the ones that only briefly appeared in the previous volume. We also have new arrivals at the nursing home, and a more direct involvement in the home’s politics (with anxiety-provoking news present as well. Is the nursing home going to close?). I loved some of the proposed and adopted rules (a complaint-free zone to avoid wallowing in conversations about ailments and illnesses, a high-tea facilitated by the residents, an art exhibition, even if the artist is not the most sympathetic of characters…) and the sayings of the residents. Of course, life at a nursing home comes with its share of loss and although I don’t want to reveal too much, I can say the subject of death is treated in a realistic, respectful, and moving way.

I shed some of the quotes I highlighted, to give you a taster (although I recommend checking a sample and seeing what you think. And, although it is not necessary to read the first book first, I think it works better knowing the characters and their journey so far):

The idea of using care homes to look after the comfort, control and companionship of the elderly is fine in principle. It just fails in the execution. What old age homes actually stand for is infantilizing, dependence, and laziness.

One in four old people who break one or more hips die within the year. That number seems high to me, but it’s in the newspaper, so there is room for doubt.

It’s always astonished me to see the wide support clowns and crooks are able to muster. Watching old newsreels of that loudmouth Mussolini, you’d think now there’s a bloke only his mother could love. But no, millions of Italians loved him.(Yes, I’m sure this can make us all think of a few people).

Difficult new terms that tend to obscure rather than clarify, especially when uttered by policy-makers. It often has to do with hiding something —either a budget cut, or hot air, or both at once.

Managerial skills alone don’t make for better care, it only makes for cheaper one.

And, a great ending (and one we should all take up this year):

A new year —how you get through it is up to you, Groen; life doesn’t come with training wheels. Get this show on the road. As long as there’s life.

The tone of the book is bitter-sweet, and, as mentioned, it feels darker than the previous one, perhaps because Hendrik is even more aware of his limitations and those of his friends, and is increasingly faced with the problem of loneliness, and with thoughts about the future. But, overall, this is a book that makes us think about the zest for life, about living life to the full, and about making the best out of our capabilities. As I said on my previous review, I hope I can meet a Hendrik if I get to that age, and I’ll also make sure to join the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and be an agitator and enjoy life to the end. Don’t ever settle for the easy way out.

A great book for those interested in the subject of growing old, in great characters, and in an out-of-the-ordinary setting. It has plenty of adventures and events (even trips abroad and international cuisine), although it is not a book I’d recommend to people who love fast action and high-octane thrillers. If you enjoy first-person narrations, love older characters, and don’t mind thinking about the long-term (ish) future, I recommend this very inspiring book.

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’1455542172,1250111307′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’880cd028-fa09-11e7-b195-c747d32ddb2d’]

Categories
Book reviews

#BookReview THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen (25th August) We might all be dying but there’s no need to get gloomy about it #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

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 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen (? well, we don't know)
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen (? well, we don’t know)

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

Description

** 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.

Advance Praise

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

My review:

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.

Links:

e-book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years-ebook/dp/B01DOSVSNW/

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years-ebook/dp/B01DOSVSNW/

Hardcover: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/0718183002/

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/0718183002/

Audible: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/B01KKMXBIA/

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!

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security