The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

In brief: Anna is 38 years old. She has Alzheimer’s disease and now lives in a residential care facility. The one bright spot is Young Guy (aka Luke), another resident. Do the pair deserve happiness even though their memories are so short? Eve, who has recently suffered a devastating loss herself, thinks so.

The good: Some bright, heart-warming points in what can be a sad story.

The not-so-good: So sad at times! Some of the supporting characters’ decisions also made me angry.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia.

Year: 2016

Pages: 345

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Setting: USA

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

I’ve had Sally Hepworth’s previous release, The Secrets of Midwives, sitting on my shelves for some time but haven’t got around to reading it. After reading The Things We Keep, I’m kicking myself for not reading it yet. Sally Hepworth can write brilliantly, plus she knows exactly how to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. For the icing on the cake, there a moral debate that had me switching sides several times.

The Things We Keep doesn’t really have a happy main storyline, but Hepworth injects some funny one liners and heart-warming scenes to make you want to keep on reading, hoping against the odds that the main characters will get the happy ending they deserve. Poor Anna, one of the leads, isn’t really heading towards the road to happiness. At just 38, she’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and now needs to live in a residential care home as she can no longer look after herself or others. On the day she was diagnosed, she left her husband (then forgot she had done and went back home). Initially, she’s resentful for being in a home that’s full of elderly people, even though her twin brother chose a place where there’s another young resident with dementia – Luke. Even though she forgets his name, Anna and Luke get along very well. Could it be something more?

Fast forwarding 12 months, we meet Eve. Her husband was involved in a Ponzi scheme and now she are her daughter are homeless and penniless. Eve takes a job as cook/cleaner at the care facility to keep her daughter in the same school. She becomes involved in the residents’ lives, with a special fondness for Anna. Surely Luke and Anna can be together? Why are their families so insistent on keeping them apart? Aren’t love and joy the things worth keeping? Eve tries hard to become Anna’s advocate, but is she just making things more difficult?

It was heartbreaking to read Anna’s chapters in the first person as her disease progressed. Initially it was just Luke’s name and a few simple things she was forgetting, but later she has an alternate name for nearly everything – sleeping bench (bed), stepping blocks (stairs)…in her last chapters, there are almost more alternate descriptions than words. I felt so sorry for the Anna we had seen earlier- the motorbike racing paramedic and for the people who loved her – Eve, Luke and Jack. Not seeing the glimpses into Luke’s mind (nor really the progression, I suppose because Anna couldn’t see it) wasn’t as painful as it was in the third person.

Eve’s character had also had a number of sorrows, but I didn’t feel as sorry for her for two reasons: first, she had the determination and the mental faculties to make the best of what she had and second, I felt sometimes she was meddling a bit too deep in Anna and Luke’s lives. I can understand why she did it, but as the family member of a person with dementia I wouldn’t be too happy if a carer decided to take matters into their own hands against something that was discussed extensively with the families. Knowing how Anna felt was a big plus for Eve’s motivation, but the story also showed that she didn’t know the full story (though nor did Jack).

It’s a difficult tale to tell from all the different points of view – residents, family, workers but I think Hepworth did a good job. She really nailed the pathos of Anna’s plight. Having the lighter moments, such as the chapters from Eve’s daughter Clementine and the subplots with the elderly residents helped to prevent the book from being enormously sad. It’s a story about love and loss, which is perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult.

3 thoughts on “The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Add yours

  1. I really enjoyed reading this review. My MIL has dementia and I really feel for her. I agree with your statement in the review about your feelings of a carer stepping in. I don’t think I will add this book to my TBR pile, it may touch a few raw notes. Fantastic review though.

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