Review: Three Things About Elsie

Filed under ‘beautiful things that made my heart hurt’: this book.

I loved it, by the way. Let’s make that clear from the start because sometimes I read my stuff back after the fact and sort of think ‘wow, that review does not make it seem like I loved that as much as I did’ which is unfortunate, really. Anyhow.  I really really liked this book. Also, sometimes I worry that my saying a book left me feeling a little ouchy might be misinterpreted as my not liking it.

This book made my heart hurt and I liked it a whole lot.

I was a huge fan of The Trouble With Goats and Sheep when I read it last year – a recommendation from my friend Natalie - and so was really excited when I heard Joanna Cannon had written something else and it had some kind of link with Battenburg cake. I love Battenburg cake (I think everybody does, am I right?).  I was excited about it, and I read it last week and you know, it is so worth a read this book. It’s lovely. If you like stories about the enduring power of friendship, and you like a good mystery and you like books that remind you about things that are really important, then this book is so worth a read.

Three Things About Elsie is kind of the opposite of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep; the story here is that of Florence (which as a small by the by is my Granny’s name so guess who I was picturing in my head the whole way through). She’s in her 80’s and she has fallen in her sheltered accommodation and is waiting for somebody to come and find her. She’s so certain that they will, and that they’ll be kind, and as she waits she reflects on the things that have been happening in the run up to her fall, the new resident who looks exactly like somebody from a past Florence thought she’d left behind her (he died years ago yet Florence knows it’s him so why will nobody believe her) and her best friend, Elsie, who is perhaps the only person left – certainly the only person at Cherry Tree – who understands her, who can help her grasp the threads of memory that she feels slipping through her fingers and who doesn’t think Florence needs shipping off to Greenbank – the home for people who aren’t well enough to live relatively independently at Cherry Tree.
It’s an incredibly moving story but it’s told so beautifully. Also, I am just such a fan of Joanna Cannon’s writing style; I felt it in Goats and Sheep, the way she got right into the head of her 10 year old Grace and made you think and feel, the way her stories and her characters got under your skin and made you believe in them, made you feel like you were witnessing something that mattered and she’s done the same here. Cannon is a perceptive writer and it’s those moments of subtle perception that really make her work stand out for me: the book is littered with them, and they’re like a beautiful sucker punch that make you ache for the Florence’s of this world

There is a special kind of silence when you live alone. It hangs around, waiting for you to find it. You try to cover it up with all sorts of other noises, but it’s always there, at the end of everything else, expecting you. 
Three Things About Elsie is a delicate story, cleverly woven and slow to unfold, so so poignant but sometimes making you laugh out loud, and sometimes it hurts watching Florence try to make sense of what’s going on around her, of trying to make people listen, of feeling like she is losing her voice when she still has so much to say.

There’s a twist which I worked out pretty early on, not that that took anything away from the story, at all and whilst some of the stuff surrounding the mysterious new resident / figure from Florence’s past did seem a little improbable I still found myself buying into the whole thing. Mostly though, this book made me feel things. It was personal, I could relate to it, dementia is a thing most people have personal experience of  I think and this book got me right in the feels and it made me think and it made my heart hurt. It broke my heart, it made me really believe that there is so much more to everybody than the worst thing they have ever done and it made me smile; I loved it.