The bestselling author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep delivers a suspenseful and emotionally satisfying novel “infused with warmth and humor” (People) about a lifelong friendship, a devastating secret, and the small acts of kindness that bring people together.
There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she’s my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing…might take a bit more explaining.
Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light. If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?
From the acclaimed, bestselling author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Three Things About Elsie “breathes with suspense, providing along the way piercing, poetic descriptions, countless tiny mysteries, and breathtaking little reveals…a rich portrait of old age and friendship stretched over a fascinating frame” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review). This is an “amusing and heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly) story about forever friends on the twisting path of life who come to understand how the fine threads of humanity connect us all.
This reading group guide for Three Things About Elsie includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her best friend, Elsie, and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light. If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think author Joanna Cannon decided to set the novel in a nursing home?
2. On page 63, Florence says, “I needed someone to hold my worrying for me.” How does Elsie play this role for her?
3. The act of naming and renaming things is a recurring theme in the novel. Why do you think this is significant?
4. Did Florence’s failing memory change your understanding of events at Cherry Tree? Does it make her a less reliable narrator? Why or why not?
5. “Simon wondered where his life ended and their life began, and how we could all be stitched so tightly together, yet the threads between everybody still go unnoticed” (page 124). How does this idea of the bonds between humanity play out throughout the novel?
6. “‘You’ve got to find forgiveness, Florence,’ said Elsie. ‘You find it so easily in other people, why do you struggle so much to find it in yourself?’” (page 334). Why do you think Florence struggles to forgive herself for the past?
7. Consider the role of time in novel, especially Florence’s idea of a “long second”—when time seems to hesitate just long enough to give you a chance to make the right decision. Have you experienced any “long seconds” in your life?
8. Florence and Simon both repeat throughout the novel that they have lived very ordinary lives. Do you think this is the case? How do you think ordinary versus extraordinary is measured?
9. “Sometimes, a name is the only thing we can leave behind,” Florence says on page 103. Do you think this is true? What else do you think Florence will leave behind?
10. Did the third thing about Elsie come as a surprise to you? Why or why not?
11. What do you think makes Florence ultimately realize that she has lived an extraordinary life, in the end?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Take turns using three things to describe the members of your book club the way Florence describes Elsie.
2. Read Joanna Cannon’s first novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Do you notice any recurring themes between the two books?
Joanna Cannon is a psychiatrist with a degree from Leicester Medical School. She lives in England’s Peak District with her family and her dog. She is the author of Three Things About Elsie and The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a top ten bestseller in the UK.
“Breathes with suspense, providing along the way piercing, poetic descriptions, countless tiny mysteries, and breathtaking little reveals… a rich portrait of old age and friendship stretched over a fascinating frame.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“A tender and charismatic look into life in a nursing home. Cannon effortlessly captures the home’s slow routines, along with the ways that staff and residents coexist but often know little about each other . . . This heartfelt tale of friendship and aging explores letting go of the past in order to live fully in the present.” —Booklist
“Amusing and heartbreaking.” —Publishers Weekly
“A heartwarming meditation on friendship and the way people we love shape us for the rest of our days.” —Bookpage
"A wonderful and entertaining feel-good story." —HelloGiggles
“Cannon’s tale is infused with warmth and humor.” —People Magazine
"Florence attempts to unravel a mystery in this blend of crime thriller, character study, and treatise on the nature of memory." —Harper's Bazaar
“Older characters are beginning to get their own literature, and Cannon’s title is a positive addition [with its] little gems of wisdom.” —Library Journal