REVIEW: Three Things About Elsie, Joanna Cannon

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

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?

Who knew that a story set in a nursing home could be so exciting? The mystery and the intrigue of the novel led to Three Things About Elsie being extremely unputdownable and, in fact, it took me only three sittings to read all of the book's nearly-five hundred pages. All of the characters are wonderfully, heartbreakingly real and the settings that they inhabit feel tangible - the description of the nursing home’s trip to the seaside town of Whitby was an absolute delight, and evoked the many childhood memories that I have of family holidays spent on the coast of the North Sea.
I think that is really where the Three Things About Elsie excels - it is evocative. It stirs up long-forgotten memories and thoughts and feelings of the reader, that are parallel in the book’s focus on things now buried. The main character, Florence, particularly struggles with memory and it is quite easy, no matter the reader’s age, to see yourself reflected in her strive for clarity and the security of the familiar.
Joanna Cannon has crafted Florence and all of the characters, in a way that makes them feel so human that it practically seeps from each page. I can imagine passing them on the street, or overhearing them on a bus. I can see my grandma in them, sure, but I can also see myself in them. And, that is what so great about it - it’s relatable, it’s applicable, it’s empathetic; it proves that, in our very nature as human beings, we’re not all that different from one another.
Additionally, this book really focuses on the connections, the ones big and small, that link us to other people and the affect that everybody leaves on other people’s lives and the world as a whole. It has numerous passages that I have highlighted on my Kindle that are able to describe love and memory and the passage of time, far more eloquently than I can even dream of achieving. And, somehow, I have yet to pick up The Trouble With Goats and Sheep (Joanna Cannon’s acclaimed debut from a few year ago) but now that I have discovered the craft and the skill that went into Three Things About Elsie, it is now at the top of my to-be-read pile.
All in all, a five-star read and, a perfect book to be one of my first in 2018. Let’s hope that all of rest of the year's books manage to live up to its high precedent. Somehow I doubt it..

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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