Book Review: On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen
What better way to kick off 2018 than by spending some time with my favourite Dutch pensioner and rebel Hendrik Groen? I am so happy to see him pen a sequel to his first Secret Diary which I reviewed here. I’ve missed him and his friends and wondered how they were getting on in their care home in North Amsterdam.
85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practicing hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.
But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .
He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.
As you can tell from the blurb, Hendrik is still rebelling against the system and trying to live his best life despite the draconian rules set out by his care home and the more understandable limitations due to his age, health and the local weather. Not that he lets any of those stop him very much and it’s good to see him still challenging penny-pinching bureaucracy and evasive jobsworths while venturing outdoors as often as he and his motorised scooter have enough charge to do so. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong and setting itself new challenges, even if it’s inevitably missing a couple of its inaugural members.
If it seems on the face of it that not much has changed, that’s only partly true. Everything I loved about the first instalment of Hendrik Groen’s diaries – his irreverent side swipes against those running the country and his care home, his feelings about his fellow inmates and commentary on what’s going on in the Netherlands and the wider world outside – are all still very much in evidence here. But there’s a more reflective and more emotional Hendrik Groen within these pages than appeared in The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4. In that, it felt as if he were only just opening up again to friendships with the Club members and a more romantic relationship with one in particular. Here, even though he hasn’t been writing the diary for a year when the book opens, he’s had two years worth of the Club meeting, a death of someone close to deal with and now in On the Bright Side, he’s facing fresh challenges which let us see a deeper, more vulnerable side to the outwardly gruff Groen. And this book is all the richer for that.
Hendrik has invested time and effort in his friendships and when they’re under threat, it affects him deeply. Happily, those very friends will see him through difficult times, helping him find a way to deal with them, usually with laughter and good humour. Raucous, fun and devil-may-care they may be at times but it’s not only heartening but touching to see the camaraderie and love the Old-But-Not-Dead Club members have for each other. On the Bright Side is a life-affirming and fitting sequel to Hendrik Groen’s Secret Diary and I adored getting to spend time with Hendrik and the Old-But-Not-Dead Club again for more irreverent talk, madcap adventures and touching friendships. We could all learn a thing or two from Hendrik and his friends and I can highly recommend this second volume of his diary to you. I loved it.
On the Bright Side is written by Hendrik Groen and translated by Hester Velmans and is published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books. It is available as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. You can read an interview with Hendrik, where he gives his advice for the New Year, here.
Thanks to the publisher for providing an ebook of this for review via NetGalley.
I have a paperback copy of the first Hendrik Groen book to give away (UK only). If you’d like to read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old, leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner on Monday.