Keeper

Andrea Gillies
Allen & Unwin, $24.99

Only hard hearts will not moved by this well-told story.

Andrea Gillies, her husband Chris, and their three children take in Chris’ mother and father (Nancy and Morris) when they are elderly and ailing. They move to a house on a windswept headland in Scotland.

The dour mood of the place (made worse by precarious weather), the enormity of the house and the strength it takes to look after two increasingly unwell elderly people while also trying to run a bed and breakfast is described in vivid detail.

Keeper won the inaugural Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2009 — an award set up to honour science writing in popular literature.

At its heart lies the question, “Where does the self reside?”

It’s a philosophical and spiritual question with immense practical implications. For example: Is a “self” that improvises moment by moment, acts in ways contrary to prior patterns of behaviour and can no longer remember what to do to remain safe and to ensure the safety of others, becoming or unbecoming?

Where can or should such selves reside? Do our systems cater well for the growing ranks of dementia sufferers or their carers? Do such vulnerable selves in our society have a comfortable, safe and affordable place to reside?

Keeper is not a book to read if you want to feel good about systems which are less than ideal or about how difficult ageing can be.

However, if you want to learn about dementia, if you want to look in the window of a house where a family is struggling with some hard realities that occur as people age and get ill, then this is a really good book (a keeper in fact).

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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