Both books feature Hendrik Groen, a geriatric Adrian Mole living in a care home in Amsterdam. Hendrik tries to keep himself fit and healthy at the age of 83, taking regular walks and looking after his appearance and overall health. He's a calm, thoughtful and dignified man, determined to make the most of his life while he can.
In The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old, the reader is introduced to the star of the series - Hendrik Groen - along with his friends and care home staff and peers. In an attempt to add excitement to his seemingly humdrum days and the lives of those around him, Hendrik and a group of friends create the Old-But-Not-Dead-Club - embarking on a series of 'adventures' (i.e. day trips) - to the horror of their peers and the staff in the care home. This book is set in 2013.
In On the Bright Side, Hendrik returns once again, this time battling against the care home director. The Old-But-Not-Dead-Club is still going, with some new members and even more adventurous trips. This book is set in 2015, so there's a one-year gap between the two books.
I enjoyed both books, but the original book (The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old) was definitely my favourite of the two. They are both bittersweet in terms of subject matter, with an often-philosophical look at life and the ageing process. The book covers the changing medical, physical, emotional and social needs as Hendrik and his friends get older - and the need for friendship and companionship.
The books are easy to dip in and out of, as if I was genuinely reading someone's daily diary, snippet by snippet. Hendrik makes dry and witty observations of the people around him and also the world news at the time. The care home itself has a boarding school feel to it - with secret meetings, smuggled food and rule breaking. I enjoyed the adventures of Hendrik and his friends out of the care home and would have loved to read more about these.
I didn't find everything amusing, I will admit, as some of the book made me feel quite sad - partly because it brought back memories of visiting family members in care homes over the years and partly because the subject matter isn't always easy, covering topics such as diabetes, dementia and the loss of loved ones. I also felt sorry for many of these elderly people (including Hendrik) who have been left in a care home without family and friends to visit them - a sad reality around the world, especially as the population ages.
There is a TV series featuring Hendrik Groen in Holland - here's a link to the YouTube trailer (it helps if you speak Dutch - which I don't - but it certainly brought some characters to life).
About the books
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old
Published by Penguin
(Paperback - 13 July 2017)
Meet Hendrik Groen. An octogenarian in a care home who has no intention of doing what he's told, or dying quietly. To that end, he creates the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and with his fellow members sets about living his final years with careless abandon. Such anarchism infuriates the care home director but pleases Eefje, the woman who makes Hendrik's frail heart palpitate. If it's never too late to have fun, then can it ever be too late to meet the love of your life?
Published by Penguin
(Hardback - 11 January 2018)
Chaos will ensue as 85-year-old Hendrik Groen is determined to grow old with dignity: to rise up against the care home director. NO more bingo. NO more over- boiled vegetables. NO more health and safety.
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 practising 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.