Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘BookClub’

A few months ago ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ was nominated to be our book to read in book club. It was completely new to all of us (including the member who presented it) which meant that we all went into the book blind, with nothing to go on but a handful of internet reviews and the knowledge that this novel was the author’s debut. That’s always a risk, but fortunately for me…. It turned out well.elizabeth-is-missing-emma-healey-620x350

Without spoiling the story for whoever may read it, the book is centred upon Maud, an elderly lady who is, throughout the book, progressing within the stages of Alzheimer’s. It is written from her point of view, as she embarks upon the quest to find her best friend Elizabeth who… believe it or not, is missing. This unusual ‘crime fiction’ is hindered, however, by the unfortunate problem that Maud can rarely remember a) that Elizabeth is missing and b) the enquiries she has already made. The investigation into this disappearance is intertwined with a flash back tale uncovering a greater story of sadness and pain from Maud’s childhood, which has been unresolved for so many years.

This book divided our group quite strongly, but for very specific reasons. Some found it very hard hitting, and too close to home for those who have had an intimate relationship with Alzheimer’s. Hearing the raw and frustrating feelings of a woman in the grasp of such a vicious disease was grating to the wounds of loved ones who had been taken by that same dignity stripping illness. Because of this, several members of the group could not read very far into the book before closing it, although many battled on through. Some were able to separate their own experiences from that of Maud, and enjoyed it for what it is. I, was a perpetual mix of a million and one feelings.

As a nurse, I have had an innumerable amount of encounters with Alzheimer’s sufferers in varying degrees of the disease. I’ve studied it, I’ve done case studies and I’ve strived to treat every dementia patient with as great a respect and understanding as possible. That said all that I’ve ever learned or observed has been from the point of view of healthcare professionals and family members. Never before have I had a true insight into the actual realities of being a dementia sufferer. Until now.

This book was so delicately and expertly written. For a debut novel it is truly phenomenal. The nature of dementia/Alzheimer’s is such a sensitive subject and one not to be explored lightly. It is also very prominent in society’s eye at the moment, and this book could not have arrived at a more perfect time. To be able to experience life through the eyes of someone with this illness is really amazing. From the frustration, and emotional trauma of not knowing who someone is, where you are, how you got there, and whether you’re safe or in trouble, to the irritation of not being able to recall simple words for simple objects. There is a point in the book where Maud is trying so hard to remember the word for pencil- she is racking her brain to uncover the word that just will not come. She explores many words that it could be called and she describes the elements of the object, before discarding the pencil and moving on. The interesting thing that struck both me, and in fact my mother also, was that she couldn’t remember the name- she couldn’t think what it was, and yet she uses the word ‘pencil’ when discarding it. This was as if her recall just would not compute, but naturally somewhere deep down she knew the word. It was that she couldn’t combine both areas of her brain to work together in the retrieval of this simple and yet at that moment, oh so complex, word. This could only have been portrayed by very clever writing and an astute knowledge of the working brain.

Relationships with anyone suffering with a form of dementia, is hard, and often very testing too. Emma Healey paints a brilliant and so real picture of the strain, guilt and aggravation that comes from looking after a relative with this disease. We spend the book watching as Maud’s daughter Helen battles with all of these feelings. At times, I found myself annoyed by her, and felt that she was much too hard on her poor old Mother, but then as the book progresses, you see that she is just frustrated and often feels so very guilty that she cannot keep her Mother safe and happy all the time. I definitely think that this was the beauty of the writing. It explores the snap judgements we make about other people when we see only a snippet of their lives and have no idea the strain that they are under. Everything that Helen feels and most of the way she behaves is actually highly natural when you stop and think about her day to day life dealing with her Mother’s differing memory and behaviour. So often when I have been nursing dementia patients, they would have a period of lucidity where they knew who I was, where they were, and everything in between. But then there are times when they would, very suddenly, become completely unsure of who I was, where they were and even who they were. And note that I’m not a close family member or friend. I’m an employed health professional, so everything I would feel in those situations would be very little in comparison to a daughter, a sister, a friend- anyone with deep roots in the relationship. Those times were distressing for the patient, and actually even for me. Moments like this, are helpless. There’s nothing you can do to alleviate the stress except sit with them, hold their hand and assure them that they’re ok. Maud’s granddaughter Katy is a brilliant example of this. In these moments, she does nothing more than love her, sit with her, and be normal with her.

Although it is the title of the book, Elizabeth’s disappearance is not the integral mystery to the tale but is merely a trigger for the greater story. I won’t tell you much about this area of the book, since I am hoping that you will read it for yourself, but what I will say is this…

The feature of a flashback to Maud’s childhood, where one traumatic event shapes the rest of her life, and more importantly to the tale, shapes the angst of Elizabeth’s disappearance for Maud, is very poignant. One thing that I notice regularly with dementia patients is their incredible memory of past events. Often, if I were to ask what they’d had for breakfast, they wouldn’t be able to tell me. (Although to be fair, my memory of earlier in the day is regularly the same!) But if I were to ask what happened 50 years ago, that is another matter entirely! The development of the story from her childhood is a brilliant addition to the book, for without it, it would be a very short and relatively depressing bunch of pages. The flashback and subsequent conclusion captivated me and spurred me on to the end. Many people in my book club were disappointed with the conclusion. I, was not.

If you are looking for a fast paced action book with guns and constant adrenaline, you won’t find that here. What you will find, however, is a very eloquent and intimate depiction of the reality we are faced with in a world ever increasing in the number of people living with dementia. You will enter into a life seen through the eyes of an elderly lady slipping into the grips of Alzheimer’s, and the pull that it has upon her life, and the lives of those closest to her. This book is beautifully written, with times of laughter, sadness, and all the other emotions you can find wrapped into one. It’s delicate, and it’s thought provoking, and ultimately it’s just a wonderful read.

I truly think that if you are in any area of healthcare, this is a novel that you should read. It has made me check myself, be mindful, and really has changed my view of dementia for the better. This is an insight that is incredibly important to have. There are some illnesses in life that you can fully sympathise with, and even empathise, but there are also some that with all the sympathy in the world, you will never know what it’s like unless you’ve been through it. This disease is the latter. But as Nurses, Doctors, and really just as human beings, it’s important to strive to, where we can, really understand the workings of those around us, so that we can reach them, look after them, and give them the respect they truly deserve. This book highlights that very well to me, and I am thankful to Emma Healey for sharing it with the world!

Elizabeth is Missing

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

2015 has officially begun….!

Scattered around social media are a plethora of people resolved to read more in this brand new year- to dedicate more time to our literary loves, to delve into unknown territories, and to embark upon fictional adventures with those page turning friends we are yet to meet. This is a good resolution, for ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go….’ (Nice one Dr. Seuss!)

I, however, have not proclaimed this as my year’s goal, because I am already in a pretty fantastic book club that challenge me each month to sample, as Aladdin sings so passionately about, ‘a whole new world’.

Our book club is filled with a variety of ages, a variety of people who really could not be more different from one another, and yet our love of reading (and let’s be honest- our love of cake…) unites us. With variety comes diversity, and the wonderful thing that keeps everyone interested is that every month, we can more often than not, simply say ‘I would never have chosen that book’. It is an unfortunate reality of life that from time to time, in most areas of one’s day-to-day, we stumble into a rut. The same can most definitely be said about our reading. Sometimes we get comfortable, we read the same genre, the same author or just simply that one book that we finish, and start again within seconds of closing the final page. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no such joy as the joy of ‘that book’. ‘That book’- the one that you know by heart, the one that no matter how many times you’ve read it, it does not deplete in excitement, in merriment, in causing you to cry, to laugh, to sigh or to clutch it to your chest in sheer desperation for that favourite character who is dying that you want, just once, to pull through! In fact, C.S Lewis made a very shrewd point when he said ‘It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself a new one ’til you have read an old one in between.’

There is an inexplicable trauma attached to the final few pages of a gripping novel. If you have never loved a book, then you will never have experienced the gut wrenching emotion involved in a literary conclusion. Whether it ended well, or ended disastrously, the knowledge that it has ended, can never be revoked.

The sign of a good book, to me, is how I feel when it has reached it’s conclusion.

1) If I shrug my shoulders and move on- it was fine, simply just fine.

2) If I close the cover, and remain in a contemplative state for longer than a few seconds, it was a good book. One I will remember, not one I will adore.

3) If I roll my eyes and cast it aside, it was hardly worth my attention in the first place.

4) But, if I take a swift inhalation, then sigh with a force that could shake even the sturdiest of ships, (and in very rare cases, exclaim some word or other along the lines of ‘nooooo’) I know that the book I hold in my hands has changed something in my book shelf forever.

Now I know that I am, and most probably, always will be, a very hard reader to grip. I can read almost anything you force upon me, but the percentage of books that gain from me the fourth emotional outcome, is dangerously low. There is a deep grieving process attached to the conclusion of these books. And again, if you have never before, truly loved a book, you will not have been privy to this sort of bitter-sweet emotion. And for that, I am sorry for you.

For a book lover, it almost becomes a literary life mission, to collect into one’s possession (both physically and mentally) as many of these shelf-changing books as you can. It can however be a chore, for with many things in life you have to sift through a pile of ‘gumpf’ before you find the jewel. Although I have not (and will not) resolve in this new year to increase my reading quota, I do look forward to finding the next book that so envelops me into its fictional world that my book shelf will be changed yet again. I am thankful to be in a group that challenges me to read those books that I would never have picked up for myself, and am confident that as the year progresses, so will my list of ‘shelf changers.

Read Full Post »

As far back as I can remember I’ve been a massive bookworm… So much so that when I went to the opticians today, my optometrist (who I haven’t seen for more than 8 years) commented on that very fact. Clearly I’m a bibliophile- and proud. Since being in a local community book club for just over a year, my obsession has only become worse. The hoarder in me has taken over and my book collection is spiralling out of control. (You know where to come if you’re after a loan!) I definitely take the view that having an addiction for the written word is much better than an addiction for…… I don’t know… cocaine?! But maybe this is some form of justification that is fuelling a fire of denial.

In general, I’ve always been a ‘stick with what you know’ kind of reader- knowing what I like, the authors I enjoy, and not venturing too far away from my norm. I’ve always been open and ready for a recommendation of books that I know are tried and tested, tending to steer clear of reading too many reviews but relying upon the ones who know my likes well. Being in a book club has been such a good way of broadening my wordy horizon! With a group jam packed full of strong personalities, tastes and opinions, maintaining a specific genre was never an option. And for this, I am thankful!

Each month, a member presents to the group 3 or 4 books that they have either read and loved, or want to read, we then vote and there cometh our book for the month! We have had a wide range of reads, none of which I would ever have chosen and devoured of my own accord (apart, of course, from the book that I nominated on my choosing week!) and yet, the majority I have loved. Although, please don’t mishear me, I have strongly disliked a few- books are much the same as people…. you just can’t like them all! But interestingly, the joy of the group has not necessarily been in the reading, but more seeing what others bring to the table in their choices at each meeting! It appears that the books we choose to read and recommend says a lot about us! Take my Mother for example, it is now widely known within our book club, that for her to truly like a book it must be smothered in history, and/or geography- if it’s set in a place that she knows well, it’s a winner and if the author is Russian she’s lost in that book forever.

Needless to say, my little book club is absolutely a highlight of my month. It satisfies my addiction for reading, as well as providing me the joy of a whole evening discussing and batting opinions back and forth with a group of truly the most wonderful and hilarious people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The only problem is… I’m fast running out of space to put the tomes that keep appearing in my possession. (Buy a kindle, I hear you cry… NO. I’m a traditional real old fashioned paper book gal.)

If you don’t read for pleasure, you’re missing out. That’s the truth. Pick up a book, and lose yourself in it. Just do it.

I live my literature life the way Dr. Seuss suggests, and so I leave you with this… ‘Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.’

(Photograph copyright K. Thatcher)

(Photograph copyright K. Thatcher)

Read Full Post »