Book Review: Somebody I Used To Know by Wendy Mitchell

What’s it about?

When she was diagnosed with dementia at the age of fifty-eight, Wendy Mitchell was confronted with the most profound questions about life and identity. All at once, she had to say goodbye to the woman she used to be. Her demanding career in the NHS, her ability to drive, cook and run – the various shades of her independence – were suddenly gone.

 

 

 

My thoughts

This was our most recent book club pick and overall it was received by the group quite well.  None of us thought the topic an easy read but we all agreed it was one that everyone should try and read.

It wasn’t really a book I looked forward to reading and often throughout my mind kept straying to how a woman with early onset dementia could have written a book.  As you read you discover what a resourceful woman Wendy Mitchell is.  This is going to sound awful but as much as I applauded her bravery for speaking out in this way I just couldn’t take to her.  I sympathised and empathasised with her but did find her to be somewhat annoying in equal measure.  She just came across as a bit Mary Poppins – practically perfect in every way.  That said, this is an important resource for all generations to discover!

Book Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is MissingWhat’s it about?BBC 2014

Lately, Maud’s been getting forgetful. She keeps buying peach slices when she has a cupboard full, forgets to drink the cups of tea she’s made and writes notes to remind herself of things.

But Maud is determined to discover what has happened to her friend, Elizabeth, and what it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of her sister Sukey, years back, just after the war.

A fast-paced mystery with a wonderful leading character: Maud will make you laugh and cry, but she certainly won’t be forgotten.

My thoughts

This was our book club choice for May and a little different for us as it was literally hot off the press. Some of the group only managing to get a copy a week or so before we were due to meet. Thankfully for me I was approved for a copy on Netgalley – so thanks to Penguin/Viking for that.

Here we have 2 mysteries in one novel; Maud’s friend Elizabeth’s disapearance in the present and her sister’s Sukey, some 70 years earlier which had remained unsolved. Maud is not your conventional narrator in that she suffers from dementia and so constantly forgets who people are, what she’s doing, where she is and is forever making notes which get lost and muddled up. This is even more frustrating for her as she tries to solve the mystery that surrounds Elizabeth’s disappearance.

The narrative switches from past to present effortlessly often  in the same paragraph with Maud’s present reminding her of her past at the time of Sukey’s disappearance. I loved the vintage feeling, descriptions of the clothes, and hair styles and even down to the lipstick colour ‘victory red’, it was just so believable, well written and researched that cast such an atmospheric feeling I could just imagine being there. These were my favourite parts of the book; Maud’s memories of war time and rationing etc and the images at the start of each chapter also added a nice touch.

This book gives a insight into the feelings and frustrations of those suffering with dementia but also their family members which forced me to empathise with Maud and sympathise with Helen in an all too common issue that’s been quite topical of late and popular subject matters for books (The Memory Book and Whatever It Takes are 2 others I’ve read recently with a dementia plot line).

Although Maud is the star of the show there are some very interesting supporting characters that bring their own stories;  in particular Frank, Douglas the lodger, the ‘Mad Woman’ (I guessed who she was) and Katy, Maud’s grandaughter, who lightens the mood and is more relaxed with her grandmother’s illness and takes things in her stride whilst others are nothing but infuriated with her. I’ve worked in a residential home for the elderly and have experience with dementia patients and know how hard and frustrating it can be, and heart-breaking and this comes across so well.

This is a great book if you know someone who has dementia and wanted to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes without being bogged down with science and medical terminology.

For me, the epilogue didn’t really give a definitive answer into one of the mysteries and I was left wanting another chapter but still an impressive debut novel that should be turned into a drama and will stay with you long after you finishing reading it. If you liked The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman you’ll love this.

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