Paul Bailey

Nursing Grievances

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old

By Hendrik Groen

Michael Joseph 355pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Feeding Time

By Adam Biles

Galley Beggar Press 410pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

The first of these two novels concerned with the lives of old men and women in care homes has already achieved the status of international bestseller. It isn’t difficult to see why. Hendrik Groen (a pseudonym, it is rumoured) writes with a positively breezy immediacy, which is faithfully captured in Hester Velmans’s admirable translation. I found myself resisting both the style and the character at first. There was something about the mischievous boy in the octogenarian’s body that seemed too calculatedly cute, and that numerical nod to Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole in the title did nothing to dispel my cynicism. Yet the book has its charms, which become more apparent after the first fifty or so pages, as Hendrik introduces the residents of the home near Amsterdam one by one. The reader begins to trust Hendrik’s judgement, particularly when the director, Mrs Stelwagen, is going about her steely business. He does not turn her into a convenient monster, but depicts her as an ambitious woman determined to maintain the rules with which she has been entrusted by the management. She has no imagination and therefore no compassion.

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