Book review: All The Words We Know by Bruce Nash

Wednesday, March 6, 2024 Permalink

All The Words We Know by Bruce Nash was my first experience with the Australian author’s work and I was completely smitten. And for me the magic here lies in the prose. Or very specifically in the narration by 80 something year old Rose – a former teacher, now struggling with her memory. And words.

I very much adored a book I read in 2014 called Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey featuring an elderly woman with dementia. That book was also written from her point of view so we experienced her world.

Book review: All The Words We Know by Bruce NashAll the Words We Know
by Bruce Nash
Published by Allen & Unwin
on 27/02/2024
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 1761470361
Pages: 336

In the beginning is the whatsitsname. The woman in the car park. She wears a nightgown and lies on her back, looking up at the sky. The nightgown is white and embroidered at the neck with blue . . . what do you call them? Forget-me-nots. A small crowd is gathered around her. All in their unicorns. Uniforms. All younger than the woman, much younger. They look at each other. They look up at the sky. They look down at the woman. They whisper.

Rose is in her eighties and has dementia, but she's not done with life just yet. Alternately sharp as a tack and spectacularly forgetful, she spends her days roaming the corridors of her aged-care facility, ruminating on the staff and residents and enduring visits from her emotionally distant children and grand-daughters. But when her friend is found dead after an apparent fall from a window, Rose embarks on an eccentric and deeply personal investigation to discover the truth and exposes all manner of secrets - even some from her own past.

I can’t rave enough about the writing here and am too lazy to type all of the quotes I’d love to share, so will paste a few excerpts in this review. I adore that Nash is able to portray Rose in a way that’s sympathetic but maintains her sense of humour, allowing us to occasionally laugh at her (rather than with her) without feeling as if we’re making fun of her.

Brilliant and inspired prose aside I wondered at one point if I would become frustrated with the narrative as Rose’s thoughts and actions become a little repetitive. (Which I suspect reflects the ‘small’ world she inhabits.) But Nash underpins Rose’s narrative with the mystery of her friend’s death (which intrigues rather than saddens her).

Sometimes I go on adventures in this place with my friend. She in her wheelchair, I with my walker. My friend moves more slowly than I do, being in a wheelchair. And being dead, obviously. p 135

It’s really only Rose who becomes suspicious of the goings on at her nursing home and there a few ‘leaps’ in deduction, including Rose’s noting the ‘Scare Manager’ with a new leather jacket, new motorbike and new watch and becoming paranoid about messages being passed to her. There was possibly a slight disconnect in the resolution of the mystery as it didn’t really seem feasible for the Rose we come to know to make the connection to uncover the secrets of the facility.

So though the discovery of the anomalies and reveal of what’s been happening is a bit clunky I’m more than willing to overlook that because it offers Rose’s narrative the story arc it needs and this deserves five stars.

I also enjoyed the way Nash reflects Rose’s relationship with her children. For most of the novel we just hear about her son’s regimented visits and money worries and her daughter’s busy life and stress caused by daughters Charity and Felicity. It’s bittersweet as the backstory of Rose and her life slowly comes to a point that – though we don’t know everything – we know enough to understand better understand her relationship with her children. And it’s kinda poignant that even though it’s unlikely Rose remembers her past, she knows that she’s done things she regrets and not done things she wishes she had.

I don’t know anything about Nash’s other books but must check them out as this was so ridiculously brilliantly written I kept stopping to take photographs of the prose to share with everyone.

All The Words We Know by Bruce Nash will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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