I was advised to read Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon by a colleague at work who said that they had read it with their book group and that it had been very popular. I can see why it would be because there are lots of things to discuss in this book and it is full of themes and issues.
The book concentrates on Florence who lives in a residential home. You soon become aware that Florence has memory and other issues. Although we are not told specifically that she has dementia it is obvious to the reader and Florence has been told by the home manager that she is “on probation” and that if things don’t start improving she will be moved to Greenbank which is a home from which people never return.
The book is told mainly in three time periods. In the present Elsie has fallen in her room and is musing about how she will be rescued and by whom. She is also thinking about recent events which occurred after a new resident arrived at the home who she is sure is a man she knew long ago. We also get flashbacks to the past events when Florence and her friend Elsie were young. In addition we are given the points of view of the home handyman and the manager, although I don’t think that these passages were as successful and they rather spoilt the flow of the story although they were needed to have an outside view of Florence’s behaviour and the events that happen.
When strange things happen in her room, items are moved and missing items are found there Florence becomes convinced that it is the fault of the new resident and she, Elsie and another resident begin to investigate him and, as Florence begins to remember past events, also what happened when she was young. As Florence appears more confused it is her friendship with Elsie that keeps her concentrating.
This could have been a light-hearted book about three older people investigating a crime rooted in the past. In fact it is rather a sad and grim book. We watch Florence’s continual fight to recover her memory and work out what is real and what is not. She is frightened that she will be condemned to Greenbank and will die there alone. A number of the older people in this story do disappear or die during the course of the story. The home manger hates her job and frightens the residents. The older people have to fight for autonomy and are continually patronised by others. As the story progresses we realise that what happened in the past was terrible and that Florence has carried regret and guilt for all her life. All the characters seem lonely.
The plot is quite involved and it takes some intrepid investigation to work out what has happened. The resolution to the mystery is very contrived and loose ends are tied up by a lot of information given by a police officer to the residents that I found difficult to believe would happen in real life. There is also a part of the book where the author misdirects the reader or, at least, encourages the reader to believe something that isn’t true. This is revealed quite near to the end of the book. I have to say that I suspect that most readers, like myself, would have worked out what was going on very early in the story and I am not really a fan of this type of story gimmick although I do think that it was done well here and is an important part of the book.
I am not sure how I felt about this book. I can’t say that I particularly loved it. I could appreciate that it was well crafted but there was always a feeling of hopelessness about the whole narrative and the ending is very downbeat. It would definitely spark discussion at a book club though.