Wednesday 16 January 2019

Three Things About Elsie, Joanna Cannon

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As Florence Claybourne lies on her living room floor waiting to be found, she has plenty of time to go over recent happenings at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. She has recently been put on probation – the threat of being sent to Greenbanks, a home for those who need more support, hangs over her. Life at Cherry Tree had been mundane, passing the days with her lifelong best friend Elsie and fellow resident Jack. That is until Gabriel Price moves in, a man that looks suspiciously like cruel Ronnie Butler who died as a young adult. Florence is convinced he is setting her up to look like she’s losing her marbles, and is determined to reveal his true identity.

As readers we are encouraged to think of Florence as an unreliable narrator – she is forgetful and frequently relies on Elsie to help piece her memories back together. It creates a dilemma – is Gabriel Price trying to sabotage her peaceful retirement (and why) or is she creating the bizarre situations herself? We see her frustration clearly with her repeated mantra of ‘I’m not allowed to do very much any more, but I’m still allowed to make a point.’ The loss of control and the challenges that come with being labeled ‘old’ are well drawn and heartfelt.

Supporting characters are also realistic – Miss Ambrose whose bright clothes don’t match her personality, and Handy Simon who’s just trying to get by without being noticed too much. They both question the path their lives are taking and are very relatable. It is also interesting in the later chapters to gain their perspective when the narrative focus shifts.

This book was so much more than I’d imagined and will tug at your heartstrings. As the truth of Florence, Elsie, and Ronnie Butler’s history is slowly revealed you feel the pain that Florence has been holding on to for so long and how painful it must be to have to re-remember it all. A novel full of genuine, tender moments, with an intriguing mystery to keep you wanting more. A very human, well observed piece that will raise questions of how we treat the more vulnerable members of our society.

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  1. I enjoyed that too. I had to read your review to remind myself what it was about but I have definitely read it! I forget titles so quickly.
    While I was reading your review I thought of a book I would recommend but have already forgotten it. An unreliable narrator indeed.

    1. I forget plots really easily, unless I have a very real emotional response to them. Still, makes re-reading more surprising haha.
      If you do remember what the other book was I'd love to know, always keen for a recommendation.