Meet Hendrik Groen. An octogenarian in a care home who has no intention of doing what he's told, or dying quietly. To that end, he creates the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and with his fellow members sets about living his final years with careless abandon. Such anarchism infuriates the care home director but pleases Eefje, the woman who makes Hendrik's frail heart palpitate. If it's never too late to have fun, then can it ever be too late to meet the love of your life?
Since it's been published, I've heard a lot of positive comments about this book, but not being exactly the type of book I would normally go for, I never thought of reading it. When the publishers gently offered me a review copy, I decided to give it a go, if anything as a short break from the murders, blood and gore I find in crime books.
"Once you are here, there is no way out."
This is the year in the life of the 'inmates' of a care home in Amsterdam. As the title implies, this book is written in a diary format, with dates instead of chapter numbers. The year is 2013.
Octogenarian, (but much younger at heart) Hendrik Groen, writes daily in his diary to vent out, gripe and moan about what happens not only at the care home where he lives, but also in the Netherlands and the whole world in general. He writes about everything, from the weather to politics, from euthanasia to the pope.
Well I dived into this book thinking I was in for a laugh-out-loud story, in which the main character is an old clown, an 83-year-old version of the wimpy kid perhaps. And it does have many hilarious moments that actually made me laugh. Hendrik is such a great character. He's the ideal grandpa, a kind-hearted, cheeky, adventurous and courageous old man, but with a heartbreaking past. However more than anything, this book lays bare the harsh reality of old age in care homes and all that it entails... broken hips, dementia, strokes, diabetes and incontinence to name just a few.
This book is sad, grim and funny at the same time, but on the whole I found it more depressing than anything else. Maybe because I don't usually read this sort of book or perhaps because it reminded me of my aunt who lives in a care home. I'm not saying that it's not a good book, many readers seem to have enjoyed it, but honestly it left me quite heavyhearted in the end. Even though the book is full of interesting characters (especially 'The Old But Not Dead' club members) and amusing anecdotes, I couldn't help but feel awful for the old people in this home. I could clearly imagine them through Hendrik's eyes, with a passive resignation on their pale faces, living out their last days, fully knowledgeable that the end is near, with only their children or grandchildren (those lucky enough to have them) providing some sort of contact with the outside world, suffering from all sorts of ailments and seeing their companions pass away one after the other. Sad, just sad, but the author cleverly employs humour throughout to cushion the sad underlying reality.
I wish I enjoyed this book more but I couldn't help focusing on its dark side rather than the funny aspect. Anyway, this review is just my honest opinion. I'm sure other readers will enjoy it much more than I did.
With thanks to Micheal Joseph, Penguin Random House UK for sending me a review copy of this book which I voluntarily accepted to read.