Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon | Review

Florence has fallen. She lives at an assisted living complex called Cherry Tree, and as she is waiting for someone to find and help her, she tells us her story. She takes us through her life at Cherry Tree and the long-seconds that shaped her.


No spoilers here…

It’s not my job to spoil this novel for you, but rather to tease you about what’s inside the battenburg-adorned cover, which I have to admit clinched the sale for me in hardback, rather than on kindle.

As Florence lay in pain in her flat at Cherry Tree, she wanders through her life there and tries desperately to remember anything of her life before. Together with Elsie, her best friend from when they were children, and Jack, fellow resident and confident, they help her to recall those lost memories that have hidden themselves away in drawers, inside Flo’s mind.

It’s quite a fascinating tale, this. Florence is a feisty gal who knows herself and shows us who she is, unapologetically. What’s heart-breaking about her, is that she is losing control of herself; whether that be thinking out loud (to sometimes hilarious effect) or, the volume of her voice (sometimes she shouts things which really shouldn’t be shouted, which again was very funny in parts). But the most heart-breaking is that she is losing her mind.

Dementia is a fundamental part of this book. Florence consistently needs help to remember anything. Elsie and Jack help her through her mind-maze, as best they can, and ultimately to discover some things from Flo’s past that changed her to her bones. Joanna Cannon takes a fascinating approach to this, whereby I think most people would want to erase the horrible things from their past, but here, Florence is desperate to remember it and remember it fully, so that she can tell someone – anyone – so that she can find her peace.

In terms of structure, the book is divided between the perspectives of Florence, Handy Simon and Miss Ambrose, both of whom work at Cherry Tree, and tiny passages where Florence is on her floor dreaming of her rescue and rescuer. I must admit that these little chapters, simply titled with the time telling us how long Flo has been lying there, I found very emotional. I couldn’t help but place my grandmothers’ into Flo’s position, waiting for help, which brought out a sadness in me.

I really enjoyed this book. Joanna Cannon has written an easy read, which sort of transcends many genres. It’s part fictitious-memoir, part comedy, part tragedy and part thriller – oh yes, I said thriller. There is a surprising element to this story that I haven’t spoken about here, because I want you to read it and enjoy it! You can read the inside cover for yourself, and discover that Cherry Tree has a new resident who reminds Florence of a man from her past – but how can be here? He died in 1953… thriller.

My favourite parts of this book are the slightly, dare I say, supernatural or spiritual moments where Cannon makes her characters, and us in turn, question our spirituality and beliefs of the afterlife. Obviously, being a book which centres around characters who are all of an age where considering one’s fate is almost as present as making a cup of tea, what Cannon does is, not make is sort of sickly and Hollywoody, but the complete opposite. There are times when I sighed out loud and thought ‘how sweet’, but in a stiff-upper-lip very British way. I can see this being adapted for a Sunday night on BBC 1 – in a good way!

I highly recommend this book. There are three things you should know about how I feel about this book. The first thing is that it made me think. Some stories have that power and others do not, but this one made me think about what contribution to the world I have made, and how I still intend to make my mark. As well as considering my mortality and my beliefs. The second thing is that it made me feel so many emotions. A full rainbow of them in fact, happiness, joy, bittersweet, sadness, acceptance and forgiveness. This book has a wonderful message and can teach us a lot about what it is to be human. The third thing is, well, that’s going to take a bit more explaining.

Read it!



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