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Book DetailsISBN: 9780718182953
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Book Review: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 831/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen - Reviewed by CloggieA (02 Nov 2016)
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 ¼ years old is the first book by Dutch old age pensioner and care home resident, Hendrik Groen. Hendrik starts his diary on the 1st January, 2013 with the aim of “giving the world an uncensored expose: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam”.
Hendrik’s descriptions of the goings-on, the staff and residents at his care home are witty, dry, often sarcastic and usually funny. The home’s director “Mrs Stelwagen is always friendly, ready with a willing ear and an encouraging word for everyone, but concealed beneath this veneer of sympathy is an unhealthy dose of self-importance and power lust”
Hendrik’s comments on the day’s events, both in the home and in the greater world are always pithy and insightful. Deaths are big on the agenda: “The deceased are a favourite subject of discussion among the elderly. Perhaps it’s to remind themselves that they are still alive”; euthanasia, too, attracts discussion “Old people are already considered of little social value, but if years from now there are even more of us, I can predict that anyone over seventy will get a nice fat bonus for volunteering to be euthanized”. When ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ bracelets are made available, Hendrik muses: “What if the paramedics don’t notice your ‘Do not resuscitate’ bracelet until they’ve got your ticker going again with a powerful electric shock? What then? Would they have to desuscitate you?”
Hendrik gets together with some like-minded residents to form the Old-But-Not-Dead Club, for the purpose of planning some activities to which they can truly look forward. Staff are disapproving and the director seems to be intent on finding rules and regulations to curtail their enjoyment: “Rules, supposedly, are always for our own good. But of course they’re first and foremost a means of avoiding risk and preventing lawsuits”
As Hendrik comments on politics and policies, the demise of famous people, the abdication of the Queen, the retirement of the Pope, the attitude of offspring, Tour de France, bullies, mobility scooters, budget cutbacks, Freedom of Information regulations, the war in Syria, and the debilities that age brings, he gives the reader a novel that is blackly funny, but also very moving. And makes us really think about how we treat our elderly.
Hendrik Groen is an alias: after much media speculation, in April 2016, NRC Handelsblad revealed him to be 61 year old Dutch librarian, Peter de Smet. He has written a sequel: “As Long as there is Life” which continues the story of Hendrik and his Club will be published by Michael Joseph in January 2018. Flawlessly translated from the original Dutch by Hester Velmans, this impressive debut has humour, heartache and plenty to think about. 4 stars
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