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BOOK REVIEW: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

| 23 January 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth 

Macmillan Australia
January 2016
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell




Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at only thirty-eight years of age, is checking into Rosalind House. It’s the best way to make ensure that she gets the proper care when she no longer remembers how to care for herself. It’s the best way to stop being a burden and a danger to her brother’s family. And she doesn’t plan to live that much longer, anyway.

Most people who want to kill themselves can wake up and decide, You know what? Today’s not the day. If I feel terrible tomorrow, I’ll do it then. Or the day after. Maybe next year. But the thing about having Alzheimer’s is that you’re a ticking clock. You don’t have the luxury of waiting. You have to beat the bomb.

But then she meets Luke.

‘Have you met our Luke?’ Clara asks, tipping her head towards the young guy opposite her. Somehow, I’d completely missed him. All at once I realise Clara wasn’t talking about herself when she mentioned another young person. She was talking about the other person like me.
‘I don’t think so,’ I say, ‘which means it’s entirely possible.’
With his head down, he chuckles. I’m pleased to note he’s not so far gone that he can’t appreciate a little dementia humour.

He has early onset Alzheimer’s, too, though it affects his speech before his memories, but regardless of that he’s showing Anna that life isn’t over yet.

A few months ago, presented with the knowledge that life wasn’t going to be what I’d planned, I wanted to check out, close the book. But now, it’s like suddenly I’ve found a few more pages. And it feels like, against all likelihood, the last chapter might be the best one of all. The last chapter, in fact, might be something great.

Even though she can’t remember his name and thinks of him only as Young Guy most of the time.


Fifteen months later, Eve begins working as the cook/cleaner at Rosalind House. Her life has recently fallen apart, and she’s trying to hold it together as best she can for her young daughter.

I wish there were a handbook for parenting daughters whose whole world had been turned upside down in the past few months. A girl who had been having trouble at school and who, in time, would have to come to terms with the fact that her father wasn’t the man she thought he was. Then I realise I don’t need a handbook, because I already know what it would say.

She has a lot going on in her life, but she still sees the signs of something between Anna and Luke, despite their advanced deterioration, despite not being able to create new memories, despite being kept away from one another.

‘If I had dementia,’ I say, ‘or any kind of disease, I’d want the person I loved within arm’s reach as much as possible.’
Angus gives me a quizzical look. ‘I didn’t say they were in love?’
‘But it’s possible, isn’t it?’
‘I guess. But even if they loved each other once, they can’t really love each other now, can they? How can you love someone you don’t remember?’
I shrug, because I have no idea.

And she’s becoming more and more aware of the fact that life is short and you never know when it’s going to be taken from you.

I think I may be treading on thin ice, but I have to ask. ‘Any regrets?’
He frowns at me, less annoyed, more curious. And I find myself holding my breath. ‘When you get to my age,’ he says, his face softening, ‘you don’t waste time with regrets. In the end, you just remember the moments of joy. When all is said and done, those are the things we keep.’
And just like that, I let go the breath I’d been holding.


The Things We Keep deals with some pretty serious issues, and some tricky moral questions, but manages to not be too heavy at the same time. On the one hand, this means the book is a little lighter on feelings than this reader expected, but on the other hand it does stop the reader from being too bogged down in a hopeless situation, with no way out, and no possibility for happiness. This, combined with a few feel-good moments, makes for a good holiday read with more substance.

The spelling in this title was a little inconsistent, with realise, humour, favourite, colour, and various others all appearing in their UK English variation, alongside mom, check, and other US English spellings. That aside, Hepworth delivers this story in a seamless style that convinces you it’s all real. As Anna deteriorates, so does the writing in her chapters. As her memory gets worse, the reader is witness to it, as though we ourselves are people in her life watching her forget things.

She brings up questions like, at what point should a person’s right to decide be taken away from them, and can you really define love according to a strict set of rules?

This is a story about true love, untroubled by the inability to remember the little details. It’s about moving on from loss, and learning to live again. And it’s about living your life while you can, living it to the fullest, so that when you’re no longer around, someone else will remember that you were.

I never had a good answer to Mom’s question. ‘If I don’t remember, will I have been here at all?’ But maybe her questions was flawed. Maybe it doesn’t matter what you remember. Maybe if someone else remembers and speaks your name, you were here.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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