‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’
Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?
Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.
The indomitable Hendrik Groen – Holland’s unlikeliest hero – has become a cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands and now he and his famously anonymous creator are conquering the globe. A major Dutch bestseller, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.
This book is getting a lot of publicity and for once I’m in complete agreement with all the plaudits as I loved it.
This is Hendrik’s account of life as experienced in his North Amsterdam care home – warts and all. What I thought would be an episodic ramble though the year turned out to be so much more. Despite the act is is written in diary format, it didn’t feel disjointed and clunky, there was a fluidity to the writing that made it flow.
What made it so readable was not only the amusing anecdotes and often acerbic views of Hendrik but the wonderful cast of characters that people his diary. His Old But Not Dead Club are an inspiration to us all, on how to grow old in style (not to mention disgracefully in Evert’s case). They have a joy for life and living that is the envy of the other residents and a real friendship that will help them through their very real trials and tribulations.
While the book is undoubtedly funny, it was also by turns informative, thought provoking and at times heartbreaking. It was the mix of emotions, dealt with in true Hendrik style that made this book a joy to read. Hendrik I suspect (or hope) is the 83 year old we would all like to be. Aware of our own mortality, but still with enough energy and intelligence to accept the inevitable, rise to the challenges and still rail against injustice and unfairness.
The book does not shy away from the very real problems that accompany getting older, dementia, strokes, diabetes and even death. It also very cleverly looks at the social and political aspects issues associated with aging. While the book might be set in Holland, it appears our European cousins are facing the same problems we have at home, with rising care costs, diminishing pensions and the worry about the quality of care to mention a few. The reality is, that while we may be not be imminently worried for ourselves, these are issues we still need to consider for our parents and/or grandparents. These are universal concerns, that are cleverly and expertly brought to the fore in the guise of Hendrik’s often throwaway observations.
Ultimately though it is the resilience of Hendrik and his friends, in the face of adversity and their ability to see the comic in the world that makes them such a lovable characters. It is impossible not to engage and empathise with them, which results in a wonderful heartfelt, hilarious, heartbreaking but uplifting read.
I received a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.