Sent to me by Michael Joseph in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 11/01/18
Publisher: Penguin – Michael Joseph
Format: Paperback, 416pp
Summed up in a word: Perspective
I am constantly looking for fresh or alternative perspectives on life and all of its workings. I jumped at the chance to read On The Bright Side as it was an idea that I hadn’t considered as a reader until now. Hendrik Groen has already brought us one diary so OTBS is a part two covering the year of 2015. I highly recommend OTBS to everyone as it is vital read. Groen has a compelling, charming, sentimental but also no-nonsense outlook on life and his writing inspired me. Being 85 and using every day of his life to remind other people his age not to get complacent or give-in as long you are alive. OTBS has so much to offer every reader in terms of insights into a long life, how the world changes and coping even in the face of illness and devastating loss. Pick it up and expand your mind. Thanks for stopping by on this blog tour event and please make sure to check out all the other brilliant blogs on the poster below.
85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo.
He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practicing hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.
But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .
He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.
“There are plenty of residents who are quite satisfied with this permanent, all-inclusive holiday, but for myself and a number of my friends, the idleness of the care-home existence does nothing for our day-to-day contentment. This diary will give me a sense of purpose again. It forces me to stay alert, put my eyes to work and my ear to the ground, and obliges me to follow the developments in our care home as well as what’s happening in the rest of the world. Hendrik Groen p3.
On The Bright Side is Hendrik Groen’s second journal chronicling the adventures and endeavours of his Old-But-Not-Dead club. Groen is 85 years old and is refusing to succumb to the endless deterioration of his old body. His mind is still sharp and as long as he has life in him, Hendrik chooses to live. HG has decided to document his life to give others food for thought. HG’s writing is thoughtful, charming and moving with plenty of cheekiness and mischievousness thrown in for good measure.
“At 11.45 we all trooped up to Graeme’s room, on the top floor. We watched the fireworks from his balcony, and Evert fire off a single illicit rocket on behalf of us all, as a mutinous raspberry aimed at the management. It was very pretty. We can’t wait to see who will snitch on us.” Hendrik Groen p2
HG’s diary follows the daily events that occur within the walls of the care home as well as current news and events happening in the wider world too. From losing family/friends, the daily struggle for comfort, companionship and control, illness and politics to the various trials and tribulations that develop such as the infamous fruit whodunnit?, causing anarchy with the other ‘inmates’, breaking the boundaries and the never-ending battle with the Director for information.
“When it comes to keeping residents informed, our esteemed Director’s motto is: Ignorance is bliss. I have the feeling that Stelwagen honestly thinks you shouldn’t saddle the inmates with information that would only make them anxious. She doesn’t really think of old people as competent human beings, and she isn’t the only one. I often have to agree with her. If you keep treating people like little children, in the long run most of them will start acting like them too.” Henrik Groen p19/20
On The Bright Side may come across as a simple day-to-day account of Henrik’s existence within his home. But with HG’s bigger-picture writing and a wealth of knowledge On The Bright Side paints an incredibly important picture of an almost forgotten generation and how all of us can work to get the most out of life as we can in the time we have. Tackling harder themes such as death, devastating loss, mental health issues and loneliness while also maintaining an air of mischief and candor is a brilliant feat. HG’s marvellous and moving insights into the older generation make this a book worth everyone’s time.
Death in the care home is a daily issue and Hendrik, along with his Old-But-Not-Dead club, tries to keep each other motivated and happy. Going great lengths to ensure everyone is kept comfortable and informed. I was inspired by HG’s club as they choose to live, to experience and to love when others are giving up so easily. I think of my own grandparents and their daily struggles and I feel more connected to them than ever. To understand and learn about another generation was certainly a privilege. HG is still trying new food and activities well into his eighties because he insists that it is the things you don’t do in your life that you will regret. He understands and empathises with his peers but at the same time he refuses to accept limitations.
I couldn’t get enough of his writing throughout this book and there is such a widespread spectrum of topics and beliefs explored that there is something for everyone. HG discusses religion, accidents, choices and health. How the elderly deal with weather, travel, illness, loss and the heaviest burden they must bear, vulnerability. From victimisation to their environments, the older generation have a lot to deal with and they need their family and friends to survive. HG explores many meaningful areas of life and I was captivated by his empathy and knowledge with his trademark banter and tendency for ribbing his other ‘inmates’ (I thought that showed a lot of acceptance to be able to joke so easily about his circumstances).
The world is constantly changing, more so than ever, and Hendrik is striving to keep up with the changing tides. Politics, technology and economics continue to stretch his understanding of the world but he tries relentlessly to keep hold of the control of his life that threatens to disappear at anytime. He regularly reflects on his past and how modern life is better (or worse) and his musings are plentiful without ever becoming arbitrary or lacking soul. He obviously has his good days and his bad days. The worst days explore euthanasia and how to approach ending your own life as well as the judgement and condescension that old people face on a daily basis. But each day is reflected upon in a way that matters or at least entertains. My only issue with the text is that it is occasionally repetitive due to the nature of the diary but that didn’t really affect my reading experience but may affect other readers.
Overall, On The Bridge Side is a highly recommended read that offers fantastic insight into a generation of individuals who don’t get as much of our time as is necessary. Henrik Groen is doing a brilliant job with his diary to keep people inspired and conscientious of age, limitations and possibilities. HG remains broad-minded and sensitive to his generation while also giving them a hard time for surrendering to their age while they still have life left in their old bones. On The Bright Side is a remarkable read from a man well on his way to living a century on this ever-changing planet.
About Henrik Groen
Hendrik Groen started his diaries on the literary website of Torpedo magazine. His first diary The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old has been translated into over thirty languages and On The Bright Side went straight to number 1 in its native Netherlands.