*I received a free ARC of this book with thanks to the author, NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: At nearly ninety, retired nature writer Hattie Bloom prefers the company of birds to people, but when a fall lands her in a nursing home she struggles to cope with the loss of independence and privacy. From the confines of her ‘room with a view’ – of the car park! – she dreams of escape.
Fellow ‘inmate’, the gregarious, would-be comedian Walter Clements also plans on returning home as soon as he is fit and able to take charge of his mobility scooter.
When Hattie and Walter officially meet at The Night Owls, a clandestine club run by Sister Bronwyn and her dog, Queenie, they seem at odds. But when Sister Bronwyn is dismissed over her unconventional approach to aged care, they must join forces – and very slowly, an unlikely, unexpected friendship begins to grow.
Full of wisdom and warmth, The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home is a gorgeously poignant, hilarious story showing that it is never too late to laugh – or to love.
Another wonderful insight into old age, from the author who brought us The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village and The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, which – yet again – manages to be simultaneously achingly sad and uproariously funny, ulceratingly tense and brightly hopeful.
Here, we visit Woodlands Nursing Home with Miss Hattie Bloom, in what she fervently hopes will be a fleeting experience. Finding herself somehow trapped in this unfamiliar environment, where everything is regimented and her precious independence is airily discounted, Hattie’s only refuge is in feeding the birds until she discovers the Night Owls – a secret, late-night social club where the elderly residents can finally demonstrate their hard earned skills and capabilities without someone trying to force them back to bed.
It’s a shame then that Hattie’s new acquaintance, Walter, manages to accidentally scupper her escape hopes and get the Night Owls shut down before she’s even had a chance to really get going there. Still, Hattie and Walter are definitely not the giving up and going gently sorts and so they find themselves highly unlikely allies in a covert battle to escape their ‘prison’, avoid their medication, surprise their friend, and reinstate the Night Owls. It’s a good job people tend to underestimate the elderly!
Joanna Nell captures old age realistically, in all its ups and downs. She shows us the terrible indignities, aches and distresses that come with losing, not only your physical strength/health, but also your personhood in the eyes of the world, your identity, hobbies and profession, your right to make decisions on your own behalf. Then she balances that bleak reality by also revealing the mischief, camaraderie, fond memories and new friends and experiences that comes when your body is old, but your heart and mind don’t realise it.
The word “heartwarming” could have been coined especially for this novel (and Joanna Nell’s whole ouevre). She takes the small incidents of everyday life and makes you laugh, cry and bite your nails anxiously. Reading The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home put the fear of inevitable old age into me, then deftly removed its sting and left the sweetness – highly recommended.
‘It’s as if the usual laws don’t apply in aged care, said Murray. ‘It’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. Even prisoners of war have the Geneva Convention.’– Joanna Nell, The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home
‘It’s not as though we’re completely helpless though, is it?’ Both Walter and Murray turned to look at Miss Bloom. ‘Everyone expects so little of us, expects us to be completely incapable. That’s our secret weapon. Our disguise, if you like.’
‘Go on,’ said Walter.
‘We could use it to our advantage.’
The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home is available on Amazon right now, and you can check here for my thoughts on The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village and here for The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, by the same author.