I really enjoyed Ms. Hepworth’s debut, The Secrets of Midwives, so I was happy to read and offer an honest review of this new novel from St. Martin’s Press.
The Things We Keep is a beautifully written novel about the heartbreak of Dementia/Alzheimer’s but also about the hope and beauty that life still holds after diagnosis. The story was told from several points of view, all distinct, but primarily by Eve Bennett, whose husband was “a bad man” and as a consequence has accepted a job at Rosalind House, a residential facility for patients of Alzheimer’s. Eve has gone from a life of luxury as a chef to cooking and cleaning for residents who need to be introduced to her every day.
Most touching is the story of Anna. When she should be at the prime of her life, she is struck down by the loss of her memories, her words, cognitive function. At 38, Anna has been admitted to Rosalind House.
The other residents of the home were lively and full, to me. From Bert and Myrna to Laurie and Clara, even the staff, Eric and Rosie, the characters help to round out what is ultimately a love story between Anna and Luke, another young sufferer of Dementia.
Anna and Luke often have to be reminded each day who the other person is… but once they see each other, they remember their relationship, how much they’ve come to care for each other. I was touched by the idea that people never forget to love. And I loved the quote, “You might not remember this but you’ll never forget it.”
I especially liked the chapters from Anna’s point of view. So often, the depiction of an Alzheimer’s patient is a bumbling, elderly person mumbling incoherent phrases and wandering through life, oblivious. This novel shows us so much more, how Anna becomes aware of her decline, fears it and hates it but is powerless to stop it. Her internal battle to stay present to the end is bittersweet as it melds with her desire to still enjoy life and experience love.
My only complaint about the book is how it unfolds. The timeline is… confusing at best. Eve’s chapters seem to move present day forward while Anna’s chapters begin 14 months prior. I do understand how the two points of view dovetail to bring the story together, but I had a hard time keeping the storyline together.
In all, this was a great read. Since my Alzheimer’s research for Brunch at Ruby’s, I’ve been drawn to novels about Dementia and those who suffer along with the patients.