It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while I come across a book that really touches a nerve in me, one that I can relate to and appreciate on a more personal level. This has actually happened a few times this year and I think it speaks to the abundance of very talented contemporary fiction authors out there right now. Sally Hepworth’s novel, The Things We Keep, is one such story that completely pulled me in and had me captivated until I turned the last page.
The Things We Keep is told from three different perspectives: Anna, a 39 year old woman living at the Rosalind House residential home who suffers from young-onset Alzheimer’s; Eve, a mid-30s fine dining chef who has come to find employment as the cook at Rosalind House after her husband killed himself and left her alone to deal with the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme he orchestrated; and Clementine, Eve’s 7 year old daughter who is forced, at too early an age, to reconcile the daddy she misses so much with the bad man so many people are calling him. While Eve’s and Clementine’s story lines are in the present, dealing with the difficult situation they find themselves in, Anna’s goes back a little into the past and progressively gets closer to the current time as the story continues. All three of these characters, along with many of the delightful secondary characters, have to struggle to deal with the various parts of themselves, both the good and the bad. It is within this struggle, whether it is emotionally or, in Anna’s case, a physical struggle, that the real hearts of the characters come out.
Through Anna’s story line we also get to see her experience a relationship with Luke, another young resident of Rosalind House, who is suffering from front temporal dementia, which affects his speech and other language skills. Sally Hepworth did an exceptional job of getting the reader inside Anna’s head, so you could not only feel her frustration, confusion and anger but witness how her disease affected her thought processes, her memory and her ability to express her thoughts and wishes. With Anna being so close to my own age, I really related to her and could completely empathize with her feelings and actions…I would respond the exact same way if I was in her situation. Possibly because of this I really connected with her and her attempts, even when she wasn’t even aware of why she was doing it, to stay connected with Luke. There is a secret revolving around Anna that resulted in her being separated from Luke during much of the story (and which drives Eve’s attempts to help them be together) and while I have to admit that I saw it coming a mile away, it did add to the development of not only Anna’s character but her relationship with her brother and his reasons for wanting to protect her so badly. Anna was such a fascinating character to me that I really wanted her to be as happy as she could be, as her brain continued to fail her, and longed for something to be done to help her.
The Things We Keep is a fascinating look into the human struggle to understand why things happen to us and how to hold on to whatever we can when it all starts tumbling down. It’s about grasping happiness wherever you can and reconciling the past to the past and being able to move on without forgetting all that came before. There are so many delightful characters going through some heartbreaking circumstances that I loved the whole community within Rosalind House. If you want to experience a wonderfully written, deeply felt story then you can’t go wrong with The Things We Keep.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.
Review copy was provided by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.