The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a fictional diary of octogenarian Hendrik Groen, resident of an assisted care facility in Amsterdam. He is exasperated by other residents who want only to discuss their ailments and the hard lot of the elderly as they wait for their next meal. He has little time for the management of the home whose rules are often arbitrary and who refuse to allow the residents to see the regulations. Thankfully for his sanity he finds a group of like-minded individuals with whom he forms the Old But Not Dead Club. They take it in turns to organise days out for the group, giving them something to look forward to and causing resentment among the other residents. By the end of the novel the club is struggling with a stroke, amputation, and the onset of Alzheimers for some of its members. It is heartening how they rally together but painfully honest in its depiction of life for the older generation.
The tone is generally light-hearted as he describes the small events that get blown out of all proportion, often sparked by his mischievous friend Evert. Hendrik purchases a mobility scooter at one point, but not before careful consideration. It becomes something of a status symbol and a point of amusement to the others when he receives a speeding ticket. Underneath the humour however is a heartfelt thankfulness for the freedom it provides, opening up the city to him once more.
He comments on the way the female residents fawn over any fresh male blood as there is such a shortage, and how those whose husbands are still with them guard them jealously against the advances of the others. Hendrik is not without his own flush of romance however. When Eefje moves in he finds himself taking extra care of his appearance. Their friendship grows and their sweet closeness makes him wish he’d met her much earlier in life.
A humorous, thought-provoking tale of a man making the most of old age. Nothing is too small or big an issue – from the cliques that form in the care home to the question of euthanasia. Hendrik is a likeable narrator who may not be a fan of the elderly in general but who cares deeply for those closest to him.