5-star Review : The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old

‘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.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

From the off, this book drew me in with a writing style that reminded me of one of my childhood heroes – Adrian Mole. Although almost every diary-style book written since the 80s will be reminiscent of Sue Townsend’s titular hero in some ways, ‘The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen’ stands out and allows us to venture into the dark recesses of Hendrik’s mind – a cynical, rebellious, funny, politicially incorrect, independent, stubborn, grumpy place, with a lot of dark humour and a hankering for romance with the Home’s newest, sweetest, resident Eefje thrown in.

Determined not to fester in an Amsterdam care home, 83 and a quarter year old Hendrik decides that he is not going to go quietly into that good night, rather he will be dragged kicking and screaming – and so starts to write a daily journal, keeping himself busy and recording all of the trials and tribulations of life in his Care Home. If you’re thinking that it doesn’t sound like the funniest concept, you’d be right, but this book is written with such warmth and cynical humour that it overcomes the somewhat daunting subject matter and gets right to the heart of the important part of the book – the people, the personalities and the relationships. And of course the feelings. So many feelings!

Hendrik and his merry little band of OAP rabble-rousers including the wonderfully misanthropic Evert (who reminds me of Bert Baxter from the Adrian Mole series) set up the wonderfully named ‘Old But Not Yet Dead Club’ and begin to arrange exclusive little trips out to have fun and cause chaos, much to the chagrin of the Care Home management and the uninvited residents. These trips out are a joy to imagine and left me laughing out loud imagining my beloved late Grandmother tagging along – she’d have LOVED Hendrik!

It’s not all fun and games though.

Throughout the book you are left frustrated to the way the care home, council and society in general insists on wrapping people up in red tape and ‘health and safety’ style regulations when by doing so, they actually reduce their quality of life instead of doing the opposite. Similarly, a lack of money in old age on both a personal level and the lack of funding available for day to day necessities within the home plays a large part in the realism of Hendrik’s tale. Of course the ever present spectre of aging leads to some really touching moments – dealing with the realities of getting older, losing mobility and the ability to do things you want to do, not to mention watching friends fall sick, become unable to look after themselves and in the worst case scenario, even die.

It’s worth the effort though. In summary, Hendrik Groen is funny and warm, frustrating at times and will make you feel sad and happy all at once. You’ll be cheering for Hendrik and his Not Dead Yet club and hoping that if you make it to the grand old age of 83 and a quarter, that you’ll not take quietly to an armchair, but take a leaf out of his book and milk life for every last drop.

Star rating: 5/5

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