A sweet novella that teaches us that we need to value people when they’re alive.
Fred Sadler just died of old age in his nursing home. After serving in WW1, Fred returned home struggling to cope with everything he saw. After getting in one of the too many problems, especially with alcohol, he’s placed in Whitby Hospital for the Insane. Feeling like his family doesn’t understand him nor isn’t interested enough to listen, Fred lives the rest of his days feeling lost and alone. So, instead of moving on, however, he hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home.
When his sister-in-law Viola comes to the place to arrange his funeral, Fred agonises over Viola’s version of his story and for not being able to set the record straight. When his family gathers for the funeral, questions start arising. How much did they truly know about the elder member of the family? Was the Hospital for the Insane the right place for him? How much of Viola’s version of the events is actually true if any?
It’s a beautiful, touching story about a person that didn’t get the chance to say everything he needed to say to find peace. As a reader, you get to see what the family failed to see from the start: a man deeply touched by the war that struggled to rebuild his life for the following years. The story is told mostly from Fred’s point of view, but we do get a few glimpses of what the other members of the family are thinking and feeling.
Fred is the type of character you can’t help but feel for, especially when the story underlines issues that, unfortunately, are still very much an issue. This novella shows the terrible consequences that the war had on young men that left to defend their country and most of them live with scars that never disappeared with time nor treatment. In Fred’s life, his family was completely at loss with how to help him and refused to see Fred as he truly was, a man that struggled to live with what he saw and lived during the war. During does days, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was barely known and psychology proved to have several limits. Because of that, it wasn’t truly known that war changes a person so much that they would become someone else entirely. Even though Fred’s family didn’t truly know him because their inability to listen, it’s also a fact that they didn’t know how to deal with the situation and what to do to actually help Fred. As the story is based on the life of one of the author’s relatives, it’s safe to say that the novella succeeds in giving Fred a voice, giving him the freedom and the chance to explain his version of events, showing his fear, his confusion, his loneliness and his pain. As you enter his mind and live his story, it’s impossible not to read with a heavy heart. But in the end, Sandy Day leaves us with a message of hope that future generations understand and live better than the previous ones.
Sandy Day has a beautiful style of writing, almost lyrical at times and she’s able to reach to your emotions from the beginning. She makes the chronically-organised events flow perfectly and she makes it easy to follow even with the time-shifts and the constant income of background information. She sets the story in the funeral as to anchor you to the reality and to show that in the end, the most important thing is to have known someone and loved them unconditionally despite all the scars and wounds they carry. We keep the memories and everything that we left unsaid.
A beautiful touching story about a man that, even if he wasn’t recognised as such, was a hero for all the effort and all the lessons he shared both in the novella and in real life.
Thank you Sandy Day for reaching out and sending me a paperback version of your book in exchange for an honest review.