It is my absolute pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for the wittily wonderful book, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old. My thanks to Sam Deacon over at Penguin Books for inviting me to be a part of the tour and for introducing me to such a wonderful character in Hendrik. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the book in just a moment, but first of all, here is a taster of what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
The hilarious international bestselling novel that has had pensioners ditching their sticks and zimmers to follow the age-defying, youth inducing antics inside The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old . . .
‘Terrific. This geriatric Adrian Mole made me laugh’ Woman and Home
‘Funny and touching’ BBC Radio 4
Meet Hendrik Groen. An octogenarian in a care home who has no intention of doing what he’s told, or dying quietly. To that end, he creates the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and with his fellow members sets about living his final years with careless abandon. Such anarchism infuriates the care home director but pleases Eefje, the woman who makes Hendrik’s frail heart palpitate. If it’s never too late to have fun, then can it ever be too late to meet the love of your life?
‘So much more than just a comedy’ John Boyne
‘A story with a great deal of heart’ Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project
‘Amusing and wickedly accurate. A handbook of resistance for our time.’ Sunday Express
‘Very funny’ Jeremy Paxman Financial Times
Oh my life. I don’t mind admitting it – I want to adopt this guy as my granddad. I never really knew my grandfathers. One died in the war some thirty odd years before I was even born and the other while I was really young. Had I got to know either, I would have wanted them to be just like Hendrik.
From the very start of this book I had to control myself, and by that I mean that I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. I started reading whilst in Costa Coffee you see and you get some mighty strange looks when sat in a corner on your own chuckling away like a loon. To be fair, it is a sentiment echoed in many parst of this book which can only really be described as a canny look at the inauspicious event of growing older in a nursing home full of ageing and whinging residents. Hendrik Groen, out eponymous hero, has determined not to succumb to the plight of the elderly, the general decline into boredom and complaining, and thus sets out to capture a year if his life in diary form. The result – a ridiculously funny, thoroughly astute, often moving, sometimes tearful account of the realities of growing older, but not necessarily wiser.
I loved Hendrik. He is not over the top optimistic, negative or even sarcastic, which would have been a very easy way to capture this character. The archetypal grumpy old man. Hendrik is merely honest, his lightly comical and only occasionally judgmental assessments of his fellow ‘inmates’ capturing exactly what you would perhaps expect it to be like getting older. The various ailments, the oldest resident who face plants in their birthday cake… The spills, the thrills, the daily pills – Hendrik captures it all in a delightful and almost innocent way. He is not bitter about his lot, not even when you find out about his thoroughly tragic past. He is merely accepting and so wonderfully able to poke fun at not only his neighbours but also himself. He is, quite frankly, refreshingly self aware; for example the scenes in which he makes reference to his ‘dribbling’ are as funny as they are mildly disturbing.
I loved the dynamic between Hendrik and his best friend Evert, the man who is determined to cause mischief for as long as he can. They make a brilliant pairing, Hendrik often acting as a calming influence to Evert’s attempts to cause mayhem. But there is a real sentimental attachment between the pair, so painfully obvious when Evert is taken ill. Their’s is the strongest friendship in this tale, although Hendrik also shares a strong bond with Grietje, who is sadly on the slow decline into dementia, and the women he wishes had been the love of his life, Eefje. As much as he may try to embrace his wild side with a brand new mobility scooter he dreams of getting souped up, and as much as he may make jokes at the expense of the other residents, his touching concern for the two women shines through in each chapter.
What really appealed to me about this book was the idea of the ‘Old But Not Dead Club’, a team of residents who are not yet willing to give into the declining years and admit defeat. They are determined to go out on a high, arranging excursions between them and making the most of their twilight years. (I am being perhaps generous in describing them that way but as Hendrik and his comrades prove, there is yet life in those old dogs.) But as with every book recounting old age, for all the good cheer that they celebrate, there are the inevitably poignant moments too, when Hendrik and his friends must say goodbye to friends and neighbours.
This was such a refreshing and perhaps even surprising book to read. The voice in which is it written is so matter of fact, so resigned to what is happening around him, that you cannot help but smile at the observations. The casual nature in which Hendrik describes bodily functions, or even the demise of Mrs Schreuder’s budgie, will no doubt make you chuckle as it did me, another coffee shop related reading faux pas of mine – this time in Ironbridge. Thankfully at the prices they charged they were terribly polite and just ignored me. The same cannot be said for my fellow coffee drinkers but hey ho. Following Hendrik’s example, I shall choose to ignore and just do it my way.
There were times when reading this that I really felt like I should feel awful for laughing at the book. I mean, there but for the grace of god and hopefully at least another thirty or forty years or so go I. But if we take life and ageing too seriously then I guess we risk missing out on many truly wonderful moments. I can only hope that when I reach my dotage, I can do so with the same mixture or witticism, optimism, pessimism, resignation and just good old fashioned fun as Hendrik and his chums. I’d say there are far worse ways to go.
My thanks to publishers Penguin books for the advance copy of The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen for review. It is available now in hardback and ebook and released in Paperback on 13th July from the following retailers.
Now – if you think you’d like to take a read of old Hendrik’s diary for yourself, due to the wonderfully unique way in which our postal service seems to function (eventually, give or take an apparent one week delay), I have ended up with a second copy of the book which is keen to spend its twilight years in a nice warm and loving home. If you think that you have the right lodgings to make the book feel welcome and comfortable, then simply leave a comment below and I will choose a winner at random on Friday 14th July.
Do make sure to take a look at some of the other brilliant blogs taking part in the tour.