Two of the 'three things about Elsie' are revealed in the book’s synopsis and are teased out tenderly through Florence’s recollection of their friendship. The third is not disclosed until almost the end of the novel, although astute readers will probably have guessed it much sooner. In most novels, pre-empting a central plot twist spoils the reading experience, but here it is Cannon’s meticulously crafted characters who drive the story ... Throughout Cannon’s writing, there is an intrinsic understanding of the quiet pain that accompanies loneliness ... she sympathetically captures the claustrophobia and enforced cheeriness of old people’s homes ... Cannon reaffirms her interest in the private tragedies of quotidian lives ... Compassionate, thoughtful and tender, it is a novel exploring the pain of nostalgia and personal truths so painful we hide them even from ourselves.
The premise of Three Things About Elsie—a mystery from the past, investigated by someone whose memory is fractured by dementia—is similar to that of Emma Healey’s award-winning novel Elizabeth Is Missing. The difference is that Joanna Cannon, who trained as a doctor, writes of the various indignities of old age with great insight and intelligence ... Cannon forces her readers to confront their prejudices about people who happen to be old ... The detective-story element makes her new novel highly entertaining, and it begs to be adapted for the screen too, if Maggie Smith and Christopher Plummer are looking for a project.
These mysterious elements [about Elsie and Florence's friendship] add substance, as several secondary characters intersperse their points of view, including a handyman and a caseworker who tries to enliven the assisted-living environment with mixed success. The main enjoyment of the narrative lies in the little gems of wisdom gained from decades of living ... Older characters are beginning to get their own literature, and Cannon's title is a positive addition that should resonate with elderly citizens and their caretakers everywhere.
The staff take a dim view of Florence’s claims and shouting, and Cannon portrays with sympathetic understanding her state of mind when she is put 'on probation': she has one month to prove she isn’t losing her marbles. The running theme here is the usurpation and bureaucratisation of the lives of the old by well-meaning institutions. I have reservations about the construction of this novel: it can be clunky, slow-paced, sententious and sentimental ... Florence’s character is lovely: sweet, sharp and argumentative, she brims with quips and retorts ... Comedy keeps the tone light. Only when Cannon is discussing the nursing home with which Florence is threatened does the tone savagely darken ... What is the 'third thing about Elsie' advertised by the title? The reader intuits the answer, which, when it surfaces in the final chapter, is powerful and profound.
Their [Elsie and Florence's] adventures are amusing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. But there are serious moments, too. As the friends examine their pasts, Florence begins to recall moments she had forgotten—or perhaps blocked out ... Cannon’s novel is a heartwarming meditation on friendship and the way people we love shape us for the rest of our days.
Cannon effortlessly captures the home’s slow routines, along with the ways that staff and residents coexist but often know little about each other. This status quo continues at Cherry Tree until a new resident stirs up decades-old secrets. As Florence’s thoughts roam, it is at times unclear what is real and what may be a figment of her failing mind. This heartfelt tale of friendship and aging explores letting go of the past in order to live fully in the present.
...amusing and heartbreaking ... While readers are likely to guess the mysterious 'third thing' about Elsie early on, and the book’s shocks depend on some unlikely coincidences, Cannon makes her protagonist sympathetic and touches lightly on how easy it is to make false assumptions about the elderly. Readers may come for the mystery, but they’ll stay to spend time with Florence.
...what begins as a tale evocative of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' turns into an amateur detective story when Florence confides in the kind and clever General Jack, another resident, and they go hunting down clues to Ronnie's motives and the identity he's stolen. The tone then shifts once more (at the seaside, appropriately) to something bittersweet and pensive, concerned with the significance of any one life as well as the texture of devotion. The novel breathes with suspense, providing along the way piercing, poetic descriptions, countless tiny mysteries, and breathtaking little reveals. Some outcomes seem obvious, but enough is left unsaid to keep readers unsure of anything until the last chapter. Perhaps not quite then, either. A rich portrait of old age and friendship stretched over a fascinating frame.