Five years ago, writer Andrea Gillies moved, with her husband and three children up to a large Victorian mansion on a remote peninsula in the north of Scotland. Along with her family, she took her husband’s infirm parents. Leaving behind friends, family and familiarity, Gillies arrived in the windswept area in search of inspiration and the sublime. Andrea’s mother-in-law Nancy comes with middle-stage Alzheimer’s Disease and Andrea becomes Nancy’s carer while also trying to write and run a b’n'b.
‘Keeper’ is a wonderful piece of writing on what remains a taboo subject. Although the anecdotes are often embarrassing in their honesty, Gillies manages to frequently raise a wry smile from the reader. Her brutal honesty regarding Nancy’s outbursts as the disease further takes hold of her paints a realistic picture of care-giving.
Gillies’ bravery in tackling this topic has to be admired. Some families would not be accepting of her laying bare the uncomfortable truth. This book is combined with some wonderful poetry which is particularly pertinent to the subject matter and, coupled with some research into Alzheimer’s and Dementia, is a must-read for anyone who is considering undertaking the task of care-giving.
Diary extracts of Nancy’s slow unravelling, and the impact it has on her family, are painful to read. To read about the demise of this woman is heartbreaking – and you realise that if you’re finding it difficult, you get an idea of how near-impossible it must have been for Andrea and her family to live with it.
This isn’t just a book about Alzheimer’s, though. It’s a depiction of family life, old age and the sad state of our National Health Service. It is also an interesting study of femininity. Although it is not Andrea Gillies’ parents living in the home, it is she who has the most interaction with them, her career that is taking a dive due to care-giving.
This is an intelligent, brave and honest account. I commend Andrea Gillies on every level.