In the latest novel by the British best-selling author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a woman in a home for the elderly recounts her close friendship with Elsie, with whom she shares old secrets she fears have come back to haunt her as she grapples with the onset of dementia.
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.