Three Things About Elsie, by Joanna Cannon, made one thing very apparent to me and that’s how seldom we read about the elderly. There are of course many stories where a elderly person looks back across their life and reminisces about things past, but largely the action is set in those memories, during a time when they were younger. This book certainly contains a little of that, but what really stands out here is that the main characters are in fact in their eighties and yes, they may be looking back, but most of the action is set in the present day.
Florence is eighty-four and has had a fall. As she waits for help she looks back at the events of the last few weeks, more precisely the arrival of Gabriel Price at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly, where Florence also lives. Gabriel has an unfamiliar name but a very familiar face. With the help of her fellow octogenarian friends, Jack and Elsie, Florence goes about unpicking exactly where she knows Gabriel Price from.
I found the premise of Joanna Cannon’s novel very refreshing and the way in which she describes the difficulties of memory really struck a chord with me. My own mother is now well into her eighties, indeed heading toward the next decade at a pace and quite often struggles to remember the story, find the word, identify the name. The elderly tend to be forgotten about and never more so than those, who like Florence, never got around to having children of their own. Unquestionably she’s a difficult old lady, but a kindly one too and a character you really warm to. The same is true of her friends and fellow residents, Jack and Elsie, after whom the novel is named.
As I think about this book it becomes clear to me that the angle here is indeed the age of the characters. The plot is engaging but certainly not astounding. In fact I’m not sure that I really cared all that much about the denouement of the Gabriel Price tale, so much as the relationships between the characters. The friendship of Florence and Elsie, extending through the decades; the charming and assertive Jack, happy to explore all angles of a story; Miss Ambrose the number two at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and clearly in a monumental career rutt and finally, Handy Simon, a man who has never really reached his potential but whose charms grow throughout the novel. These are normal, well written characters, with very mundane and everyday problems that we all worry about. It’s funny how, even as I write this, Three Things About Elsie, grows in my affections.
This book is certainly not a must read, but it definitely has its charms. A