Book Review: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Three Things About ElsieAbout the Book

There are three things you should know about Elsie.  The first thing is that she’s my best friend.  The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.  And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a man who died sixty years ago?

Format: Hardcover (464 pp.)           Publisher: The Borough Press
Published: 11th January 2018 (UK) Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

Elsie is Florence’s best friend, has been since childhood and is the person who helps Florence to remember things.  Unfortunately, Florence needs quite a lot of help these days to remember things, not just from the past but in the present.  Although there are some things you don’t share, not even with your best friend.  Some secrets are best left tucked away where no-one can find them.   However, memory can play tricks on you so the things you most want to remember remain elusive whilst things you’d rather forget come floating to the surface unbidden.

The reader quickly learns two of the three things about Elsie, but the third thing?  Well, there are a few small clues for the careful reader.

Amongst many other themes, Three Things About Elsie explores how small actions (or inactions) may have long term consequences, how one should never underestimate the impact of small acts of kindness and that most people have hidden qualities they may not even realise they possess.

I have to say the mystery around the new resident and its resolution didn’t completely work for me as there were things I found too improbable.  However, I loved the way there were more pieces of the jigsaw (to reference the cover) than one first imagined and how the author cleverly brought these together, with small, beautifully formed and unanticipated links between events and characters.  Talking of the cover, was there ever a better use of a Battenburg cake in a story line?    Plus you may never think quite the same way again about a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

There are some wonderful nuggets of writing – too many to quote them all, but here are a few of my favourites:

‘It makes you wonder if you did have a purpose, but it floated past you one day, and you just didn’t think to flag it down.’

‘We explored pockets of the past. Favourite stories were retold, to make sure they hadn’t been forgotten.  Scenes were sandpapered down to make them easier to hold.’  

‘It’s the greatest advantage of reminiscing.  The past can be exactly how you wanted it to be the first time around.’

Although one can’t help falling in love with Florence, I grew really fond of some of the supporting characters, in particular Miss Ambrose, Simon and Jack.  So I have to take issue with Miss Ambrose when she remarks, “Most of us are just secondary characters.  We take up all the space between the few people who manage to make a mark.”

I really enjoyed the book.  Yes, there is sadness in the story (you will probably shed a little tear at the end) but there are also wonderful moments of humour, both observational and in the dialogue.  For example, when the hotel owner is asked to provide a room for interviews during a trip to Whitby:

“Maybe the television room?” said Miss Ambrose.

“That’s out of the question.  It’s Tuesday,“ said Gail, rather mysteriously, but she didn’t elaborate.  “I suppose I could you let you have the staff rest room.  Although you’ll need to be out by eight, because I’ve got a new shift coming in and I’ll need to change my slacks.”    [It’s the word ‘slacks’ that really tickled me.]

Or, decorating a room for a dance:

‘Miss Ambrose’s bunting stretched all the way around the room, except for a small gap in the corner due to an oversize painting of the Princess of Wales.  Simon and Miss Ambrose both stood with their hands on their hips, admiring their efforts.

“Shame about Diana.” Miss Ambrose looked over at the corner.

“I could get the Sellotape,” said Simon.

Miss Ambrose stared at him. “I meant passing away so young.”

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers The Borough Press in return for an honest review.

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Joanna CannonAbout the Author

Joanna Cannon’s first novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, was a Sunday Times bestseller and a Richard and Judy pick.  She worked as a hospital doctor before specialising in psychiatry, and lives in the Peak District with her family and dog.

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