Three Things About Elsie is the latest offering from Joanna Cannon, her previous novel was the surprising debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.
This novel is a sort of mystery, but also a reflection upon life as seen by an elderly woman, Florence who has fallen in her room shortly after 4pm. She cannot get up, nor can she reach her call button.
She slowly goes through the people who may come to find her, and so the story unfolds. Who they are and why they might come to her room, what they will say when they find her on the floor.
The hours pass, the plot thickens, and in the intersectional chapters in “now-time” Florence notices things lying under the bed or the bureau where the cleaners have missed them. Some of these items have a place in the story, some of them are just dust.
Her story, and the story of the friends and carers in the sheltered accommodation where she finds herself, unwind slowly with a hint of menace as she is constantly being threatened with removal to Greenbanks, which when we do “visit” it later seems to be the worst sort of institutional care home imaginable. And then there is the strange man, the new resident, calling himself Gabriel Price, how is it possible that he is there when he drowned?
And how did twenty five Battenburg Cakes turn up in her cupboard? The reader is left unsure whether this is indeed a calculated act on the part of the threatening stranger, or batty Florence slowly losing her faculties. We can choose between the views of the care home staff who think one way and Florence’s friends who believe her version.
In the end, it is also a case of five degrees of separation. We find, as the reader does in From a Low and Quiet Sea, that all these people also have a tenuous connection way back in the past.
Heaven help us all!