‘Another year, and I still don’t like old people. Their Zimmer-frame shuffle, their unreasonable impatience. their endless complaints, their tea and biscuits, their bellyaching.
Me? I am eighty-three years old.’
The No.1 International Bestseller The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old was published in paperback on 13th July by Penguin. Originally published in Holland in 2014, this book has become something of a phenomenon. Translated to English by Hester Velmans, I was very fortunate to receive a copy from Sam Deacon in Penguin Random House UK.
Please do continue reading for my voluntary review of this charming book…
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 Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is described as a book that ‘will not only delight older readers with it’s wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.’ I do so agree.
This is a book that is both charming yet poignant. It is sentimental yet funny.
Hendrik Groen is an octogenarian living out his days in a rest home in Amsterdam. As the days roll by monotonously Hendrik makes a decision to shake up his days a little and write an exposé of life in a nursing home, or as he describes it ‘a year in the life of the inmates‘
I love a grumpy old man. There may be some of you who recall that fabulous series on TV, One Foot in The Grave, starring the fantastic character of Victor Meldrew, a series that is as funny today as it was in the 1990s. Also we had the recent book by Jonas Johansson The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. There is something about their cantankerous personalities that just attracts my attention. There is a humour with people of a certain age, that attitude of just not caring what people think anymore.
Hendrik Groen captures all this and more. As he writes his diary, he reveals to us the pure mischievousness of many of the residents, particularly of his friend Evert. Evert, like many others, is bored with the tediousness of the daily routine and is partial to the odd prank and the *ahem* occasional drink or two. We hear about Eefje, the newest tenent. Eefje is different and soon Hendrik becomes quite smitten with her. Their relationship is beautiful and there are entries in the diary that are just so personal and tender, I almost felt voyeuristic reading them.
Hendrik and a few of his friends set up a group, called the Old-But-Not-Dead Club. It is their lives and they decide to live their last few years outside the remit of the care home. They organise trips out, always catering for the weakest, making sure it’s a very inclusive club for all it’s members. They develop a fierce loyalty toward each other and as the inevitable happens among the friends, my heart was broken.
While this book is a humorous recounting of the life of a cranky old man, it is also much more than that. The reader is exposed to the illnesses that take our elderly, as we read about dementia, amputation, loss of mobility and ultimately death. We are also introduced to the politics of the Dutch system, where there is shortfalls in spending for the elderly and the home has to introduce restrictions to folk who are already leading a restricted life. Hendrik Groen has written a book that will challenge even the hardest of hearts. The entries in the diary are a glimpse into a life that is the future for many of us.
Hendrik is a wonderful example of how to age disgracefully. His attitude is a lesson to us all that age IS but a number and we really do need to live each day like it’s our last.
A humbling read. A sweet read. A book I challenge you to read and not feel some emotional attachment to this amazing man. He will steal your heart.
I’ll leave you now with the words of Hendrik Groen
“Food, drink, laughter….We had hardly any time for serious discussion.”
Hendrik….I salute you!!!
Purchase Link ~ The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old
The indomitable Hendrik Groen has become a cultural phenomenon. Now, he and his anonymous creator, whose identity is a fiercely kept secret, are conquering the globe…
‘Hendrik Groen started his diaries on the literary website of Torpedo magazine. He says about his work: ‘There’s not one sentence that’s a lie, but not every word is true.’ His first diary, the international bestseller The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old has been translated into over thirty languages and is being adapted for television. His second diary went straight to number 1 in the Netherlands. He is currently working on a standalone novel.’
‘Hester Velmans is the author of two popular children’s novels and a translator specializing in modern fiction. Her translation of Renate Dorrestein’s A Heart of Stone won the Vondel Prize for Translation and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her translation of Lulu Wang’s The Lily Theater was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Her children’s book Isabel of the Whales now has a sibling: the second in the Whales Series, Jessaloup’s Song (age 10 and up).’