Title: The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home
Author: Joanna Nell
Published: October 27th 2020
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
The joyous, charming and utterly irresistible new novel from the author of mega-bestseller The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
At nearly ninety, retired nature writer Hattie Bloom prefers the company of birds to people, but when a fall lands her in a nursing home she struggles to cope with the loss of independence and privacy. From the confines of her ‘room with a view’ of the carpark, she dreams of escape.
Fellow ‘inmate’, the gregarious, would-be comedian Walter Clements also plans on returning home as soon as he is fit and able to take charge of his mobility scooter.
When Hattie and Walter officially meet at The Night Owls, a clandestine club run by Sister Bronwyn and her dog, Queenie, they seem at odds. But when Sister Bronwyn is dismissed over her unconventional approach to aged care, they must join forces — and very slowly an unlikely, unexpected friendship begins to grow.
Full of wisdom and warmth, The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home is a gorgeously poignant, hilarious story showing that it is never too late to laugh — or to love.
‘This was, after all, her one and only chance to escape from Woodlands Nursing Home.’
From the mega bestselling author of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, comes an enchanting new novel titled, The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home. A jovial caper and a touching tribute to our older population, Joanna Nell’s new novel is a story that holds multi-generational appeal.
Meet the motley crew of the Woodlands Nursing Home establishment. For residents such as eighty-nine-year-old Hattie Bloom, an ornithologist, Woodlands is a difficult place to reside. We learn that Hattie is used to her having own space and independence, which she cannot find at Woodlands. Fellow resident Walter Clements feels much the same as Hattie, and this would-be comedian longs to get back on his mobility scooter to regain his own independence. When Hattie and Walter cross paths via a unique night time activity club at Woodlands code named ‘The Night Owls’ they initially find it hard to connect. Eventually Hattie and Walter overcome their differences to hatch a very special plan of escape. The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home is about big ambitions, unfilled dreams, friendship, reliance and good humour.
It is wonderful to see such a considerate and thoughtful campaigner for the elderly, Joanna Nell, continue to inject such enthusiasm to this sub-genre. The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home is a contemporary fiction title, with a strong slant towards airing the experiences of our older generation in a respectful, graceful and insightful tone. With her signature mix of warmth, wit, understanding and heart, Joanna Nell’s third novel is not to be missed.
Yet again Joanna Nell has crafted some wonderful and enduring characters to populate her third novel. The key elderly figures of this tale offer an shifting form of narration. As a result, we are privy to the innermost thoughts and feelings of these characters. Nell certainly doesn’t hold back with these two! I loved both Walter and Hattie’s musings on life. I enjoyed this twosome’s grumbles, frustrations and their innate ability to rebel against the system, it sure was a breath of fresh air to come across two characters of this inclination. Nell’s cast do seem to have universal appeal and I am sure this book could be easily enjoyed by both younger and older generations alike. Supporting Hattie and Walter are the fellow residents and staff at Woodlands. We also hear from family members connected to the key protagonists. The inclusion of all these outside figures rounds the book off nicely. I liked the general interplay that occurred throughout the book between everyone. It really was a delight to spend my time with the folk at Woodlands, even though the tough and sad times.
Joanna Nell’s Author’s Note contained at the close of the story provides the reader with an extra insight into the process of compiling this book. We learn through Nell’s many years of experience of working as a GP for people nearing the end of their life, how difficult it may be to advocate for your own rights, wishes and entitlements as you reach the end. In fact, the central adventure thread of this tale highlights this point very well. Nell also uses The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home as a means to help the wider community better understand how establishments aimed at the care of the elderly must be in tune with their needs and offer a stimulating environment, allowing them to exercise some agency over their lives within the regulations stipulated by these care facilities. Nell attempts to show both sides of the spectrum in relation to a nursing home environment. We learnt that while some residents of these homes will thrive, others will falter. While Woodlands is generally a welcoming place, there are aged care facilities that do not have wonderful staff such as Sister Bronwyn as support systems. It is at times frightening and sad, but Nell approaches this aspect of her novel with the awareness and dignity this topic deserves.
With some light hearted fun courtesy of the escape arrangements, the night owl group, Walter’s foray into stand-up comedy and more, The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home is quite a hoot. These aspects of the story balanced out the serious undertones of ageing, care, mortality and free will. I would certainly love to see this one up on the big screen, it has some wonderful qualities and enduring characters that would be well suited to a screen adaptation.
The charismatic folk of Woodlands Nursing Home will help you to see that the twilight years offer plenty of laughs, adventures, friendships and chance opportunities. The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home is another wonderful novel from valued storyteller Joanna Nell.
The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home by Joanna Nell is published by Hachette Australia on October 27th 2020. $32.99.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home is book #129 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge