Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
- Is telling the truth always the right thing to do?
- Is who we love a conscious choice we make, or part of our personality?
- What does grief look like?
- Do our mistakes define us?
- Is life worth living when you can’t take care of yourself, and can’t remember the past?
Opening line: “No one trusts anything I say.”
Anna is 39 when she checks herself into an assisted living facility. She’s just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and wants to protect herself and her family as much as possible. At the facility, there’s another young man with dementia—and they form an unlikely couple. However, as their mental faculties decay, their families insist they be kept apart as they question each person’s ability to consent to the relationship.
Eve comes to the facility as a cook after her husband is caught in financial fraud and kills himself. Eve’s daughter, Clementine, struggles with their sudden decline in fortunes—and the resultant bullying at school—and with the loss of her father. Anna and Luke become Eve’s project as she grieves and tries to find hope for love again.
There’s a beautiful line in Jane Eyre (what else?) when Bertha is revealed and Jane questions whether Mr. Rochester would love her if she, too, were crazy. Mr. Rochester responds: “Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still.”
People often think that they wouldn’t want to live if they could no longer remember their loved ones, if they lost the ability to control their emotions or dress themselves or make simple decisions. This is certainly Anna’s thinking, and she seriously contemplates suicide. But Luke insists that life is worth living, even when he can’t remember anyone. Is he right? There’s no way to know, but their relationship hints that perhaps he is right. Eventually, they don’t know who the other one is, but every time they see each other, it’s like love at first sight all over again. Think 50 First Dates, but so much more tender and sweet.
I think that Sally Hepworth’s portrayal the experience of having dementia is accurate, too. The chapters told from Anna’s perspective are fascinating, especially when she does suddenly forget words or mixes up details or meets her beloved nephew for the first time, again. People who suffer from dementia have short tempers and are easily overwhelmed—and when you read Anna’s experience, it’s easy to see why. It must be so frustrating knowing that your brain isn’t working, but being unable to fix it. Seeing people’s funny reactions and knowing that you just messed up. You will have so much more empathy for people suffering from mental illnesses after reading this book.
I was also touched by Clementine’s narrative. Clem idolized her dad and is heartbroken when she finds out what he did. Another girl at school says her daddy was a bad person, but with Clem he was the best father. Which one is the truth?
Clem gets multiple perspectives on grief at the assisted living facility. One old man, Bert, insists that he sees his wife and talks to her, although she’s been dead for over 50 years. With the bluntness of a child, Clem questions him about Myrtle and why he still sees her. Bert isn’t senile; he knows she’s dead. But he loved her so much that he is happier holding on to her memory than letting go and finding someone else to love. Clem decides that for her the right thing to do is accept the memory of her dad as he was—imperfect, bad in some ways, good in others—and let him go.
“We can make each moment frightening for her with the truth. Or we can lie to her and make each moment happy and joyous. I know what I’d prefer if it were me.”
“I can’t help but think that love is more like a river—it wants to flow. And if one path is blocked off, it simply finds another.”
Recommend? 100%! You can pre-order it from St. Martin’s here.
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