Thursday, 24 May 2018

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

How do you make people listen when you are elderly and can’t keep things straight in your head? Joanne Cannon’s new novel weaves a lively story around the half memories and disappearing facts which bother Flo, a resident at Cherry Tree home for the elderly. It is fortunate that Flo has Elsie, her oldest friend, to help her stay focussed because Miss Ambrose thinks that perhaps Greenbank, with its higher staff-to-resident ratio, might be a better place for her.

The novel begins with Flo lying alone on her living room floor after a fall, waiting for help. As the hours tick by, the story shifts back to weeks before, when a new arrival at Cherry Tree upsets her composure. The charming Gabriel Price can do no wrong, but Flo remembers him as Ronnie, the man she is certain murdered Elsie’s sister Beryl just after the war. It doesn’t help that Ronnie was supposed to have drowned decades ago.

As Miss Ambrose puts Flo on probation – make an effort to fit in or it’s off to Greenbank – Flo has the unsettling feeling that someone has been moving things around inside her flat. The more she tries to get to the bottom of Ronnie’s re-appearance, the more it seems to Miss Ambrose that Flo needs more secure care. This adds to the tension and unexpected humour that runs through the book.

There is humour also in Flo’s terse narrative, her observations of the staff and her sudden acts of kindness that aren’t always appreciated. There is plenty of action too when Flo and her new pal Jack hatch a plan to unmask Gabriel Price, culminating in a rest home outing to Whitby and the kinds of shenanigans old people let off the leash might get up to.

This is a brilliant, slow-burner of a book, with characters you really warm to and a crisp, smart style of writing that shows a lot of care. Every paragraph is a joy but what else would you expect from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie is Joanne Cannon’s second novel and confirms her as a fine new writing talent.

Posted by JAM

Find here in Epukapuka: Three Things About Elsie

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