by Dimitri Verhulst (Portobello) ISBN: 9781846275678
This is the fourth novel by Dimitri Verhulst to be translated into English. I haven’t read him before, but the timing of this sad little story was appropriate to my own life, with an elderly friend in the throes of dementia.
The protagonist is a former librarian who has been placed in a home for the elderly due to memory loss. He explains how he believes it’s the best way to retire in peace and escape his nagging wife. What fun and games he has convincing everyone that he has indeed “lost his marbles”. But is that really what’s happening?
When he sees the lost love of his youth and tries to find a way to be near her, or when he determines there’s a former war criminal in the home to be confronted, and finally when he decides he’s not the only one who is acting a part – I became tangled in the unsteady balance between dementia and sanity. Moments of clarity merge with episodes of fantasy.
And it makes for fascinating reading, with tenderness and razor-sharp satire side by side. It’s brutal about the indignities of old age and care-giving, but it’s so bitingly funny in places. I can’t say I loved it, but I highly recommend it.