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I'm not sure what to make of this translation of a huge bestseller in Holland with its anonymous author. The whole is a one year-long Diary-Blog written by Hendrik Groen, a resident in a care home in Amsterdam. Whoever the author really is, he has intimate inside knowledge of such a place.
Hendrik's blog tells us like it is - the oldest resident is 'senile as a goldfish'; dementia patients are 'trussed up like escape artists who have forgotten how to escape'. There's no shying away from the minutiae of humiliations suffered by these 'ramshackle bodies'; the nasty undercurrent of bullying between residents, or the endless groaning and complaining. This all makes it sound awful to listen to, and in some ways it is a profoundly distressing and hideous scenario of what may await us. BUT it is saved by Hendrik's spirit. As he says, it's 'sad, grim and funny' in the care home, and friendships forged there are his saviour.
Hendrik is witty, acerbic without being cruel, and switched on to his country's politics of care for the aged as well as the world. He organises outings for those able enough to join his Old but Not Dead Club; he loves his mobility scooter, and gives and receives kindness and consolation. The more Hendrik reveals about himself, the more we respect and admire him as he keeps his private tragedies to himself. He is tolerant and positive, enjoying smartening up for his Christmas dinner, and making comments which are heart-breaking and funny at the same time, 'Old people, like children, are always losing things, but no longer have a mother to tell them where to look'. He makes jokes at his own expense as when he reels at the cost of a haircut which soon will be 1 euro per hair the rate his hair loss is going.
The winning element is Derek Jacobi's narration which makes the whole a dramatic monologue creating Hendrik as a complete person with a full supporting cast. Jacobi himself is 78 - a younger narrator could not have done it.
This is certainly a one-off. It will move you to tears and laughter, but, dominated as it is by Hendrik's humour, courageous spirit, respect for old people, and sense of the absurd, it is ultimately a listening experience not to be missed.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Having lost two close and very elderly relatives in residential care in the past few years I recognise everything in this diary! It has been written so perceptively and with such a light touch that over its duration I experienced the entire range of emotions. Knowing that if I live long enough I could be looking at my own future made the whole thing even more poignant. There are though very many 'laugh out loud' moments and I found myself chortling away continually!Inspirational is the 'Old But Not Dead Club' and I hope that in similar circumstances I would be able to set up something similar to that! The narrator, Derek Jacobi, is brilliant and adds tremendously to the impact of the book .. it would be a pleasure to listen to him all day!
I would thoroughly recommend this book/audiobook to all ages .. but .. it should be made compulsory reading/listening for everyone's 60th birthday!!!!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful