THE THINGS WE KEEP
Author: Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Thought-provoking, challenging, and ultimately beautiful, The Things we Keep by Sally Hepworth is a love story about adversity, identity and memory. It’s one of those books you read curled up on the lounge, with a cup of tea (or coffee or hot chocolate) and a box of tissues by your side. Somehow I’ve missed reading Hepworth’s previous novel, the bestseller The Secrets of Midwives, but this book is now on my to-read list.
I’m in my sleeping-clothes. I’ve thought this through. If someone finds me out here, I have a great excuse. I have Alzheimer’s. I’m lost. Confused. Take me back to my room. It may or may not happen again. (p63)
Set in an assisted living facility, the novel is foremost a love story between Anna Forster, who is 38 and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and Young Guy (Luke) who has dementia. When their love affair becomes known, their fate is put in the hands of the institution and Anna’s twin brother, Jack. Can they truly make decisions for themselves when their memories are compromised? Jack thinks Anna’s counting on him to keep her safe when she’s lost the ability to do it for herself; he thinks the best way to protect her is to keep her away from Luke. Others, like Eve Bennett, who works at the facility, see things differently. As for Anna, she can’t control what’s happening to her mind, but she still understands love and its power.
Anna’s story unfolds through flashbacks and Eve’s present-day observations, with Eve’s daughter Clementine also lending her voice to the tale. What has brought Eve, once a pampered and wealthy wife, to Rosalind House as a cook and cleaner? And how will Anna’s situation help Eve and Clementine heal from their own tragic loss? As Eve helps Anna, she faces some truths about her husband, marriage and life, and slowly gathers the strength to move forward and forgive.
I think of the moment I found him, the words that hung around me, useless and unsaid, the actions that floated in the air, undone. It was too late. But it isn’t too late for Anna. (p200)
Distinct voices, cleverly-styled and layered narratives that bring past and present to an emotional collision, and a story that perfectly balances reality, sadness and hope, The Things We Keep is a book I will be keeping on my shelf. One for those who enjoy tender, thoughtful fiction about relationships in a contemporary world, it’s a celebration and exploration of human nature.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.