Tuesday, March 9, 2021

A Funny Kind of Paradise - Jo Owens

It was this description from Penguin Random House Canada that had me picking up Jo Owens' debut novel, A Funny Kind of Paradise. 

"A poignant, uplifting, brilliantly insightful story of one woman's end-of-life reckoning with her past, her lost daughter and herself, for readers of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Still Alice and Elizabeth Is Missing."

If you're of a certain age, you will have spent time visiting loved ones in care facilities. I have. And it's hard. I read the first few chapters and thought - I just don't know if I can read this one. But, I did pick it up again - and ended up loving it.

Francesca is the lead character. She is in a care facility as she can't look after herself - a stroke has robbed her of her voice, her mobility, her ability to eat and more. But she still understands everything being said.

Francesca: "And nobody wants to lie there like a vegetable. We don't want it for ourselves, nor for our loved ones. Better to die quickly than to endure a half life. That's what we think. But I surprised myself. I just want to live."

Owens tell her story from past and present as Francesca remembers her children Christopher and Angelina and her best friend Anna. As well as recalling her drive to succeed, her parenting skills or lack thereof, her attitude towards life, brusque manner and more. She's seeing from a different point of view now she's reflecting on her life. At the mercy of others for her care, Franny's world grows smaller as her heart grows bigger. Stripped of the extraneous, Francesca finds comfort in the smaller things and connects with people in a way she didn't before the stroke.

We also meet other residents in the five bed room as they come and go. But it is the care workers that truly open up Franny's eyes and heart as they become the larger part of her life. Their conversations, both work related and personal, are told in italicized font. Their styles of care and attitudes are all different, but for the most part they care about the residents. The conversations are at times brutal in their honesty. 

Now, here's the thing....Owens has worked as a health care aide for twenty years in Canada. She knows what she writes. There is one long term carer named Molly that I really liked - and I think maybe there's more than a bit of Owens' self woven into this character. Owens also points out in the author's notes that "I want to mention that the care aides in this book are appallingly ad about talking shop in front of the residents, which is a professional no-no. I let them talk that way, even though they're good aides) and should know better, because I want to write about what actually happens, rather than what ought to happen."

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a heartbreaking, heartwarming read that will have you thinking of what is important and what you truly value in life. 

"But this is nothing like my old life, that's for sure. So I guess I could say it's a funny kind of paradise for me too." Read an excerpt of A Funny Kind of Paradise.

You can connect with Jo Owens on her website and follow her on Twitter. 

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