Book #69


Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

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 like a man who died sixty years ago?

I don’t think I’m alone in the strong feeling that our older generation are entirely precious and important, and they must be protected at all costs. This book wrenched my heart out with its reality.

We open with Florence lying on the floor of her sheltered housing flat, having taken a fall some time before. This immediately struck an emotional chord with me, with my great-aunt having a similar accident a few years ago. She lay on the floor overnight until she was discovered in the morning. Although I was horrified at the thought of this at the time, reading how Florence simply had nothing to do but think for hours, how she flicked between telling herself this was the end and wondering how all that debris got under the sideboard, just horrified and upset me even more.

As Florence waits to be rescued, her mind travels back to the events leading up to the fall. A new resident had arrived at Cherry Tree, looking exactly like someone from Florence’s past who has no business being there at all - he’s supposed to be dead. Florence explains how things transpired from that point, as she and her best friend Elsie try to piece together how this could possibly be.

The whole thing ticks along quite slowly; although there’s mystery involved, it’s a long while before anything is revealed, seeming to mimic what I can only imagine are slow days in sheltered accommodation. Cannon’s skill here isn’t actually in the plot, it’s in her observations and commentary on humanity and life. She speaks of the importance of each individual, how even the smallest life can create an impact on the earth, and how one decision made cannot possibly define us.

I found this a unique breath of life into a demographic we really never get to read much about. It’s important to understand their stories and their motivations, and I found the journey both sad and inspiring in equal measures. It’s definitely one to make you think, and to spur you into holding your old ones close to you.

“Now we were old. Now we were different people, and it felt as though everything we went through had happened to someone else, and we had just stood and watched it all from the future.”