The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen – reviewed

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1⁄4 Years Old Book Cover The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1⁄4 Years Old
Hendrik Groen
Penguin UK
August 25, 2016

** THE INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON ** 'There are many laughs in this book but it's so much more than just a comedy. It's a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I'm an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen' John Boyne, author of international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 'Another year and I still don't like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.' Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn't planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he'd like. Technically speaking he is ... elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums? Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs - not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in - the woman Hendrik has always longed for - he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what's left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences. The indomitable Hendrik Groen - Holland's unlikeliest hero - has become a cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands and now he and his famously anonymous creator are conquering the globe. A major Dutch bestseller, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date. Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1⁄4 Years Old 'Hendrik Groen's account of daily life in a care home for the elderly pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and frank accounting of the trials of old age. Behind Hendrik's light touch and grumpy-old-man persona is a story with a great deal of heart, and some important themes. Hendrik effortlessly incorporates the politics of aged care, from funding to euthanasia, into his personal story and offers his own acerbic insights. Anyone who has a friend or relative in a nursing home or retirement village, or who hopes to grow old with dignity themselves, will find much to reflect on' Graeme Simsion, international bestselling author of The Rosie Project 'Funny, tragic and sometimes heart rending' Het Parool 'Hendrik Groen is a heart-warming hero' Trouw 'With pungent phrasing Groen takes down life in a retirement home. Both charming and hilarious'****Leeuwarder Courant 'Hendrik Groen is king. My mother (78) suffers from dementia. Doesn't read a newspaper or magazine anymore, only old photo albums can grab her attention for longer than 5 minutes. Hendrik Groen made her laugh out loud' Ray Kluun, author of Love Life 'The tears came streaming down my face. From laughing so hard. I couldn't stop grinning for three days'Ouderenjournaal 'Never a dull moment with my new BFF Hendrik Groen' Read Shop, Hedel 'It reminded me of a combination between The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Wonderful! Shame it's finished already' Arjen Broers, Bookshop Bruna 'Heart-warming, funny and poignant. It's about all aspects of life. EVERYBODY should read this' Bookshop Stevens

Initially I found this book by Hendrik Groen a little strange.  However once I’d got into it I found this hard to put down. Not politically correct nor for the faint hearted in some ways but ultimately it worked very well for me. This is the story of Hendrik’s life in a residential home in Holland. Initially I was not quite sure what to make of this book. I found it both quite amusing and quite sad. The narrative seemed rather disjointed. As the title suggests it is in the form of a diary and each day’s entry can jump from subject to subject quite randomly. However as I read on it became increasingly compelling and addictive.

There are times when it really is very amusing. However I do think some may be concerned about it – while Hendrik`s views can be very upbeat equally his views on some of his fellow residents (and other characters) can be less than flattering and this is where some of the humour comes from. The writing, or translation at least, feels a little awkward sometimes. However ultimately for me it manages to be casually and yet deeply profound at times; equally it is moving and sad too. There are those who will love this and others for whom it simply will not work. Personally I found that I really did enjoy the story of a year in the life of Hendrik. I don’t think it is quite a 5 for me but it will be for some.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review