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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review: All the Words We Know

Title: All the Words We Know

Author: Bruce Nash

Publisher: 27th February 2024 by Allen & Unwin

Pages: 336 pages

Genre: General Fiction

Rating: 3.5 cups


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.

All the Words We Know is a wickedly funny and genuinely moving story about loneliness, language and how we make sense of the world.

My Thoughts

All the Words We Know is a unique and enlightening book. This is a story narrated by Rose, an elderly woman who is in Aged Care and suffering from dementia. What is incredible is that the author writes this book - confusion and mixups inclusive - as it would be for Rose. Hidden within all this dementia prose is a mystery that is taking place with the residence. 

‘It’s important to us that you understand, Rose,’ he says, as if I am a lovely, brainless old thing instead of just an impossible one.’

Undoubtedly the author demonstrates clever use of language by taking the reader into the world of Rose as she not only wanders around the Aged Care facility but attempts to solve a mystery. At one level the language is playful and filled with humour, as frustrations surface in communication and unraveling past and present events. 

‘I hate it when she tells me to remember. What does she think I’m trying to do, for God’s sake? But she’s the one who gets angry.’

The reader will most likely also find it frustrating as at times it becomes repetitive and unclear but of course, that is surely the experience of dementia. Personally, it would have been a hard balance to attempt but I found it detracted from not only solving the mystery but also in reaching an understanding with her children and grandchildren. 

‘There are too many names, too many words, too many passwords, too many bits of silk attached to things. Too many. You have to be . . . seductive. Selective.’

All the Words We Know is really a very clever book and many readers are sure to relate to the situation both in terms of muddled words and observations with the more serious issue of communication with loved ones. I admire Bruce’s efforts in presenting an authentic book that is not only a wonderful play on words but illustrates rather poignantly the plight of many older people. 

‘What I am really afraid of is the forgetting.’ 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.


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