Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Title: The Things We Keep
Author: Sally Hepworth
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publication Date: 19th January 2016
Pages: 352
Book Source: St Martins Press & NetGalley


Synopsis: Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one another resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them.

My Thoughts:
My first time reading Australian author Sally Hepworth. I plan to make up for lost time after this beautiful read. 

There are few of us untouched by Alzheimers; our memories are a defining part of who we are, the essence of one's self. When names, experiences and memories are taken, Love may be the thread that sustains even though the thread may be as fine and delicate as gossamer wings. 

38 year old Anna has early-onset Alzheimer's. Sally Hepworth covers her cognitive decline with sensitivity and humour. But there's more to this story than the sadness of Alzheimer's. It's a love story, a story of hope and heart. 

In the assisted care facility Rosalind House, Anna and fellow resident Luke, a 41 year old with a variant of frontotemporal dementia fall in love.


... Nat King Cole's rich baritone notes fill the room. He and I stare at each other, expressionless. 

"This is a joke, right?" I say as the swell of tension gives way to laughter. "Unforgettable?"

"No," he says, even though he's laughing now, too. "I've listened to this record before, but I don't remember hearing this song."

You... don't - " A wave of hysteria hits. Now I'm laughing so hard, I can barely get the word out. "-remember?"

That sets him off, which sets me off again. Which sets him off again. And for the next few minutes, he and I are just two young people. Laughing. Kissing. And listening to Nat King Cole. 


The narrative alternates between Anna, widowed, single mother Eve, the new cook at Rosalind House and Clementine, Eve's seven year old daughter. 

Eve befriends Anna, her desire to help Anna and Luke may not have been the wisest move given her lack of medical knowledge but I empathised, you cannot help but form emotional connections when you work in a place like Rosalind House.

Anna's first person perspective as the disease progresses is heartbreaking to read. Sally Hepworth balances this, not with gratuitous humour but with Anna's dry wit and biting sarcasm, the quirky personalities of many of the elderly residents and Clementine's sunny nature. 


“Dr. Brain once told me that an Alzheimer’s brain was like the snow on a mountain peak—slowly melting. There are days when the sun is bright and chunks drop off all over the place and there are days when the sun stays tucked behind clouds and everything remains largely intact. Then there are days—spectacular days (his words)—when you stumble across a trail you thought had melted, and for a short while you have something back that you through was gone forever.”

I think I'd have felt better about my prognosis if he'd reworded a little. Something like, 

The brain is like a filthy, stinking pile of crap. When the sun comes out, it stinks worse than you can imagine, and when it’s cold or cloudy, you can barely smell it at all. Then there are the days that, if the wind is coming from a certain way, you might catch the cold scent of a spruce for a few hours and forget the crap is even there. 

With that analogy, at least we’d have been calling a spade a spade. Because the truth is, if you have dementia, your brain is crap. And even if you can’t smell it right this minute, it still stinks.”


I adored the elderly residents of Rosalind House, Bert who talks to his wife Myrna, who's been dead for 50 years, Clara and her husband Laurie, May and Gwen. They wormed their way into my heart, as did Clementine; she was a ray of sunshine. 

How wonderful that something as heartbreaking as early-onset Alzheimers is also warm and funny and hopeful. 


"I promise. We'll be together in the end. Batshit crazy. And together. I promise."



Connect with Sally Hepworth





22 comments:

  1. Though dealing with a sad subject, the book was an exceptionally good read.

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    1. absolutely, although I found it a bit 'lighter' that Still Alice!

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  2. Ohhhhhhh this sounds WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. such a good read Julie, you'd like it!

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  3. Loved it too. And loved your review. Great choice of quotes. Yeah loved all the characters - bar one!

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    1. Thanks Kathryn ... I hear you, he was a snake wasn't he!!

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    1. yeah awful at any age but devastating so young :(

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  5. Seems like such a sad subject that I have been hesitant to try it. I'm really glad to see you loved it, though!

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    1. Honestly Brandie it wasn't as sad as I was expecting, so many light, funny moments that balanced it out

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  6. After having experienced Alzheimer's in my family, I've been drawn to books about memory issues. And I mean to read this one soon. The descriptions given seem pretty accurate. Plus people in care facilities do tend to bond together, at least some of the time. Their world is that place, not outside of that place. My father became very close friends with another resident of his care center, a lady who was very unlike my mother. It was tough for my mother and my siblings to deal with. However, I was just so glad that he had a friend. After all, he didn't remember us and she made him happy. Lovely review!

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  7. I think this book would be just too sad for me.


    Majanka @ I Heart Reading

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  8. This sounds beautiful and heartbreaking. I'm always interested in books that feature memory loss but also kind of scared of them because the subject is just so awful. This sounds like a book really worth reading and since I'm trying to push myself out of my comfort zone a bit definitely one I should add to my TBR!

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  9. This one recently came on my radar and made me a little curious. I wondered if the sentimentality of the title and cover would mirror the story, and it sounds like it does. I might have to add this one to the queue. January is filling my reading slots for the year, it looks like.

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  10. Enjoyed reading your thoughts about this novel. It sounds well written and quite poignant, and I think I'll eventually read it.

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  11. I thought you would enjoy this and I'm sure you will like The Secrets of Midwives too

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

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  12. I've seen this book about quite a bit recently, but I haven't actually read any reviews of it.

    It sounds like a book that could be tough to read at times, especially if you have experience in any way, shape or form, with the disease, but I think it's a book I'll be sure to keep a look out for.

    I love that you included passages - I like that in a review... Although I don't actually do it myself!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reading With Jade

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  13. There are times when I want just this type of read, others when I avoid it! So glad you enjoyed it.

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  14. Great review Teddyree... I'm not sure if I could read this. My father had dementia (and I get paranoid about it every time I can't remember something) so it feels a bit too close to home.

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  15. I enjoyed your review Teddyree. I have this novel on my 'To Read' list.

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  16. Way too much for me right now but it's nice to know that there is some lightness and humor. A hard thing with such a tough topic.

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  17. Fantastic review and quotes! I liked this one too. Clementine was one of my favorite characters and I really felt for Anna and Luke and even Eve with all the crap she had to put up with from the community. I was glad the humor and romance were there to balance the sadness.

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