I was so excited to receive an early copy of The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth and to have it be my first review of the new year was the perfect way to kick off the blog for 2016. This book was so wonderful and moving and the first of Hepworth’s that I have read. She is an elegant storyteller that truly captures the essence of the human spirit and love in this novel. Not only was I lucky enough to get a sneak peek but I also was able to send a few questions to Sally herself to get an idea of her process for this book as well as a few dishy questions that we all would love to know 🙂 See my interview below!
The Things We Keep centers around Anna and Luke, two 38 year old people diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. They both are living at a residential home, Rosalind House, a place for people well over their age also living with this disease. Both being the youngest patients they gravitate toward one another finding comfort in the fact that they are young and are both suffering with this devastating disease. Together they can see the former versions of themselves and start to develop a relationship which is not necessarily a good thing in the eyes of the medical staff at Rosalind.
Eve is a newly single mother who is in search of a new job after the demise of her marriage. She applies at Rosalind House for the position of the cook. Not what she is used to at all, she knows this is what she needs to do for her daughter and their start for a new beginning. Eve starts to see the connections made at Rosalind House and picks up on the relationship of Luke and Anna. She believes that this relationship is key for their day to day living and will help them in whatever they need even if it going against the rules. As she starts to see the love they have for one another Eve is reminded of what love is and believes that she can get back to that place for herself.
The Things We Keep while sad at times is a beautiful depiction of love and the kindness of strangers. While upsetting at times, as Hepworth writes so intricately about this devastating disease, you are consistently reminded about the “little things” in life that we should all cherish as they can be taken away in an instant. I would say it would be impossible not to have a connection to a character in this book as they are so real, raw and vulnerable ; each character in their own suffering, searching for the light in the dark times of life. As I completed this book I was left with a feeling of hope and happiness, even with the heavy content within, that the human spirit is resilient in the worst of times. A must read for any reader searching for that constant reminder.
BLISS BEAUTY BOOKS INTERVIEW with Sally Hepworth
How did you come up with the idea to write about the Alzheimer’s/Dementia population?
Five years ago, I watched a news segment about a woman—a newlywed—who was pregnant with her first child. She had also recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 31 years old.
More recently, I was having coffee with a friend who is a nurse at a dementia facility. She told me about an elderly man and woman who held hands in the communal living area of the center every day. They were both non-verbal and their memories were less than five minutes long. Yet every day, they sat next to each other and held hands.
It got me thinking about the relationship between love and memory. I liked the idea of exploring that further in a novel.
This book was so touching and emotional. What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
It wasn’t always an easy novel to write. It was hard to be in the head of someone who has been diagnosed with such a devastating illness, particularly while so young. But I went into the story with a belief—from the stories I’d read and the research I’d done—that somehow love could remain, even when the brain forgot everything else. I feel like Anna and Luke’s story was testament to this. And in that way, it was lovely writing their story.
Who was your favorite character to write about and develop?
Oh gosh, it’s very hard to pick a favorite. I don’t know if I can do it. I will say that Bert wormed his way into my affections pretty early on. And Clementine—she reminded me a lot of my own children. But I feel a connection to all of my characters. They become like children—I love them all, even the naughty ones.
While writing this book what type of research did you do?
I always begin research with books, and this was no different. I read everything I could find about dementia—fiction and non-fiction. Then I contacted my local branch of Alzheimer’s Australia. The program manager for early-onset dementia met with me on several occasions and even read the manuscript and provided feedback. I also met with a nurse who spent her career working with people with dementia. Her stories and experiences fed this story.
As a writer, where is your favorite place to write?
Okay, I’m going to let you in on a secret. A lot of the time I write from my bed! Ah, it’s so cozy. I don’t usually tell people this because it feels unprofessional. The rest of the time I write at my desk or at my dining room table. It’s nowhere near as comfy.
Name 3 blissful things that you can’t live without?
Books, Netflix and my babies.
What is the first thing you do when you complete a book?
This is a hard one because there are so many stages of ‘completing’. You finish the first draft, then the second draft, the edits, the copyedits, the proofread—it’s never ending! In light of this, I don’t usually celebrate until the book comes out. Then, it’s usually with champagne and a nice meal with my family. And I might also get my nails done.
What was the last book that you read?
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved it.
While on tour what is a must-have beauty product in your make-up bag?
Concealer! And dry shampoo.
Are you looking forward to any books that are coming out in 2016?
Liane Moriarty’s new book. I cannot wait for it.
*Many thanks to Sally and St.Martins Press for sending a copy for review.