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Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | General Fiction | Humour

By Swirl and Thread

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‘This book will teach you many things. Here are three of them:
The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.’ 

From the author of the bestselling debut, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, comes a new novel that will stay with you for a very long while. Three Things About Elsie is described by Waterstones as ‘a restorative, wryly perceptive novel about growing up and growing old’, a truly wonderful description of a book that tells the story of eighty-four year old Florence Claybourne.

Please do read on for my thoughts on this very engaging novel…

It’s 4.48pm and Florence Claybourne lies on the floor of her apartment after taking a fall. Living alone in sheltered accommodation, Florence begins to imagine all sorts of scenarios, where she is discovered by various staff members and friends. But mixed up with all these thoughts are Florence’s memories of times past.

Three Things About Elsie takes the reader on a journey. We all grow old, we all have memories and we all have friendships that we hold dear. Joanna Cannon explores these friendships and how important they are to us all, especially in a world that keeps on moving forward.

Florence also takes the reader into her present life in sheltered housing. I always find reading these types of books to be very poignant, as many elderly folk carry such humour with them in recounting stories and Florence is no different.

We are introduced to Miss Ambrose, who is involved with the daily running of the care home. Miss Ambrose inhabits an unfulfilled life. Her ambition was to move beyond the environment of a care home, but life just got in her way. We all have dreams and Miss Ambrose’s life, I think, reflects the thwarted expectations that many of us now have as the years pass by.

Handy Simon is the caretaker on site. Simon is such a gentle character. His warm nature reflects off each page yet he too has his own issues, carrying anxiety around with him daily. The home is the perfect place for him to hide away and live a life of routine and pot noodles.

Jack is Florence’s male friend in the home. Jack is a very supportive staple in Florence’s life. As her mind wanders occasionally, Jack is someone who helps bring her back down. His caring words and his obvious affection for Florence are very evident throughout the novel.

As the story reveals itself, through Florence’s snippets, we get an insight into a secret that Florence has held close to her heart for many years. With a new resident on campus, Florence is in fear of her past becoming exposed. She recounts her story in her own unique fashion, with Elsie as her constant companion in these stories every step of the way.

Elsie’s character is charmingly portrayed by Joanna Cannon. We soon discover that, yes she is Florence’s best friend and it is Elsie who always knows how to make Florence feel better. While Florence lies on the floor, it is Elsie’s words she remembers as she tries to focus on her life. It is Elsie who always helps her look for the positives in her life and it is Elsie who helps Florence navigate the minefield of memory loss and getting old.

As the novel progresses, I was so taken by Florence and her story. Her frustration, as she attempts to get her point across at times and her inability to convey her thoughts in a coherent manner, is so vividly portrayed. Aging is a fact of life, but how we choose to age and the cards we are dealt in later years, has such an impact on how others see us and how we see ourselves.

Three Things About Elsie is a charming book with a very endearing central character. Now before I say anymore, I have to mention the stunning, almost edible cover of this book. It is of a jigsaw of a Battenburg cake. To me there is very strong symbolism here. Like any jigsaw, it takes time and patience to fit all the pieces together to get the complete picture, just like the memory of our lives. As we age, there can be gaps and pieces missing. It can be hard to remember the good times and the not so good, but with a close friend by your side, it makes it easier to navigate these waters. And the Battenburg cake….well come on, who hasn’t visited an elderly person and not been offered a slice of Battenburg at some time in their life?

Three Things About Elsie is a book that will burrow into your heart. Written with a very understanding hand, Joanna Cannon’s training in the medical/psychiatric profession has given her first hand knowledge of how the human mind works and she brings these experiences to her writing in a very unique and compelling manner. Florence and Elsie. Elsie and Florence. A magical friendship that will captivate every reader in it’s own special way.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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