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The Things We Keep - Book Review

Home > Brisbane > Books and Writing | Free | Literary
by Alison Muirhead (subscribe)
Doting grandmother and grey nomad who should join Volunteers Anonymous and is greatly in favour of a ten day week. So much to do, so little time.
Published March 30th 2016
Gone but not forgotten - a tale of love and loss
the things we keep,book review

I've just had strict instructions from my dentist as to how I should clean my new implant with bridge, and it set me wondering. Who will do that for me if I get to the stage I cannot do it for myself? Scary stuff. My hope is that such a situation is a long way down the track for me (and may it never arise), but not for those who suffer from early onset dementia.

Sally Hepworth does not go into the perils of dental hygiene for Anna, but the humiliation of being undressed in public comes up very early in the story. I could not believe after reading this that my husband was confronted by such a scene in an aged care village recently. We were looking for a toilet and simply followed directions from someone in the know. As soon as I came upon a lady being dressed in the corridor, I knew that I had lost my husband who was following me. There was certainly no diginity in that scenario.

The book raises many other questions about such facilities, so many its no wonder folk say they would rather die at home than "go into care". Firstly, there is the unsuitability of such a place for young folk. Thank goodness for the charity known as Young Care in Brisbane. Hopefully this idea of building facilities strictly for those young folk who need care will spread far and wide. Next there is the idea that living in such a facility means that all human feelings such as love, and activities such as physical love are out of the question. Celibacy seems to be expected of all residents.

The lives of the two main characters, Anna, the patient, and Eve, the newly widowed, are intertwined. Both have suffered loss, but Eve is the only one with the power to recover from hers, and she is determined to help Anna as best she can. One thing they share is the realisation that their losses have resulted in big gains. Anna may not remember this fact, so she is repeating her feelings of thankfulness on a daily basis.

As with all communities, there is a variety of characters, each with their own story. Eve is privy to many of them through her empathy, and her daughter, Clementine, also exhibits this laudable character trait. Clementine has her own cross to bear through the loss of her father, and the bitchiness of a fellow student and her mother who appears happy to see a tall poppy fall.

Clem proves to be a hit with the residents who delight in having a child in their midst. She even manages to bring the grumpy Bert around, and through Bert's rather unusual exhibition of undying love and concern for his dearly departed Myrna, starts to come to terms with her own loss. In fact, she owes more to Bert than to the child psychologist.

Clara and Laurie are a long married couple who seem to have the ideal living situation in a nursing home, but Clara has a secret that she wishes to reveal to Laurie before a terminal illness robs her of the chance. She does not have faith in his love for her, but can die happily with his words in her ears.

Consider the other aspects of love in this story. Anna falls for another young dementia patient, Luke. Previously well off Eve falls in love with the gardener, Angus. It takes a long time to get to the feelgood aspect of this novel, but it certainly had me hanging out for the denouement when love conquers all and the baddies get their comeuppance.

Susan Hepworth certainly did her research into a disturbing condition which will affect many of us. A recent ABC TV Catalyst program gave me some hope. It appears that music ameliorates the condition. Gardening appears to be the best therapy in this story. Another fact about Alzheimer's that I will not dispute is that a definite diagnosis cannot be given until death. My father's autopsy proved his condition beyond doubt. There are genetic connections. Now why did I come into this room?

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Why? To enter the minds of those who are losing theirs
When: Any time you are not likely to feel even more depressed
Where: Any comfy place
Cost: Free at your local library
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