Stories have been told for as long as we have been able to speak. The writing and reading of fiction to facilitate the telling and retelling of stories is an important aspect of being human. The enduring appeal of the novel is demonstrated by the place of libraries and bookshops in the community, the flourishing of book groups and the popularity of creative writing courses.
The body of work weaving the topic of dementia into everyday stories continues to grow.
Take a look at some of the standout titles added in 2017 and consider for your summer reading list.
A full list of fiction held in the Dementia Australia libraries can be found here.
Rain birds / Harriet McKnight (2017)
Alan and Pina have lived contentedly in isolated – and insular – Boney Point for thirty years. Now they are dealing with Alan’s devastating early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As he is cast adrift in the depths of his own mind, Pina is left to face the consequences alone, until the arrival of a flock of black cockatoos seems to tie him, somehow, to the present.
Nearby, conservation biologist Arianna Brandt is involved in a project trying to reintroduce the threatened glossy black cockatoos into the wilds of Murrungowar National Park. Alone in the haunted bush, and with her birds failing to thrive, Arianna’s personal demons start to overwhelm her and risk undoing everything.
At first, when the two women’s paths cross, they appear at loggerheads but – in many ways – they are invested in the same outcome but for different reasons.
Ultimately, unexpected events will force them both to let go of their pasts and focus on the future.
The gingerbread house / Kate Beaufoy (2017)
Recently-redundant Tess is keen to start work on a novel and needs to make it work. She and her freelance journalist husband Donn desperately need the money and three weeks looking after Donn’s aged mother while the carer takes a break seems like an opportunity to get started. She knows it’ll be tough looking after Eleanor, who has increasingly severe dementia, but she’ll surely find some time for herself, won’t she? Arriving at the isolated country house their daughter Katia has named The Gingerbread House, a tearful Tess begins to realise that she has a far more difficult few weeks ahead than expected. Her mother-in-law is now in need of constant attention and Donn can’t help as he has to stay in town for work. Narrated by Katia – their only child – who prefers not to speak but observes everything, The Gingerbread House is a deeply moving and compassionate story of a family and its tensions and struggles with her grandmother’s dementia, as the reclusive teenager describes the effect it has on everyone in a strangely detached but compassionate way.
Goodbye, vitamin / Rachel Khong (2017)
Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year. Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.
Young adult writing
Before you forget / Julia Lawrinson (2017)
Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does ; her best friend has stopped talking to her ; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.
At times funny, at times heartbreaking, this is an ultimately uplifting story about the delicate fabric of family and friendship, and the painful realisation that not everything can remain the same forever.
For the younger readers
Grandma forgets / Paul Russell and Nicky Johnston. (2017)
A warm, uplifting picture book about a family bound by love as they cope with their grandmother’s dementia. When your grandmother can’t remember your name it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her. Over the years, the little girl has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can’t remember those memories. She makes up new rules for old games and often hides Dad’s keys. This is a warm, hopeful story about a family who sometimes needs to remind their grandmother a little more often than they used to about how much they care.
Past posts highlighting fiction