Book reviews

Out of Time by Australia author Steve Hawke was a thought-provoking, moving account of a man in his late middle-age who realised he was suffering early onset dementia and as a result, planned how he would continue to live and how he would die.

Joe was an architect, married to Anne, a high school teacher who lived in Perth. Joe and Anne felt as if they were living the best part of their lives. They had successful careers, their daughter Claire was married and beginning her own family (although they didn’t like her husband much) and they were planning dream trips for their retirement which included fishing for Joe and bird watching for Anne, when a strange loss of memory frightened Joe.

He had hurriedly parked his car in the city before attending an important work meeting but after the meeting couldn’t remember where he had left his car. Joe reported the loss to the police and his car eventually turned up after having been towed as it had been left on a clearway, but soon after this event he realised he had been suffering other memory losses.

Joe’s worries were made worse by having recently watched his Uncle George’s health and quality of life deteriorate as a result of dementia, so he was certain of his own condition long before he was actually diagnosed. He hid his worries from Anne for a long time but when he did tell her, he also provided his own solution, which was to suicide before his own quality of life worsened to the point where his and Anne’s life were impacted.

Watching Joe and Anne, their daughter and friends come to terms with his condition and his solution was difficult, but the story was also heart-warming and well told. Joe and Anne were well educated, affluent, likeable and completely relatable. The character’s voices were very Australian and they swore a lot, which might put off some readers, but in the situation they found themselves in I felt that their swearing was understandable.

I expect that readers who know Western Australia and Perth will particularly enjoy the setting, but think this book would be a very hard read for anyone who had experienced a loved one going through a similar situation.

I haven’t heard of Steve Hawke before and have not read much from Fremantle Press, but was impressed by the quality of the writing and the story.

Comments on: "Out of Time by Steve Hawke" (17)

  1. Dementia is the cruellest disease, even though you say this is heart warming I think I’ll pass. Have you seen the film Still Alice? I thought that was brilliant.

  2. Agreed, dementia is a terrible disease. I think this story would be too emotionally draining for a reader who had experienced this with a friend or family member. I’ve read and watched Still Alice and agree, both were brilliant. I liked that at the end of the film there was the sense that despite everything else, Alice knew she was loved.

  3. Oh gosh. Yes, this is too close to home for me. As I watch my mother living with this dreadful disease, I’ve found it impossible to avoid asking myself how I would cope with such a diagnosis and have generally come to the same conclusion as Joe in this novel. Thinking that and following through are wildly different things of course. I’ve avoided Still Alice, knowing it would be a very tough watch. There is a large part of me who wants to watch and read – to see how these characters cope with their experiences. But I know it will be a negative experience for me. I mention all this because in turn, it makes me think about why we read. Often it is to experience through the stories of others and perhaps to gain insight as a result and often it is to experience that jolt of connection when a writer has captured one’s own experience. But I’ve come to realise that there are occasions when the real thing is enough in itself, when the actual experience is too deep to explore through fiction and the mind just shuts its eyes and says no. That said, I hugely admire writers who can capture these narratives. And actors who can portray them. 😊

  4. Yes, there are stories I won’t read because of my own experiences so I can certainly understand why you would avoid this book or Still Alice.
    Your comment about why we read (or even write) about particular topics is interesting. I didn’t have that jolt of connection with the character and his wife and their experience with dementia in particular but connected with the more general theme of the couple coming to terms with his illness and impending mortality. I found The Living Sea of Waking Dreams to be a harder read as it mirrored more closely my own experiences.
    Perhaps every story is about something particular readers don’t want to engage with, from war and racism, sexism, to doomsday stories, even love gone wrong? The starting idea may be the writer’s worst fear or greatest horror with the story developing as a way of understanding their own emotions, which are then shared with readers. As you say, admirable.
    I’ll probably read light romance for a couple of weeks, just the same!

  5. It’s all fascinating, isn’t it, Rose. I’m having to choose books differently to pre-pandemic. Not always lighter stuff, just storylines which feel ‘ok’. Anything which feels even vaguely risky can wait for a more settled time 😊

  6. I’m with Sandra on this one. I know a lot of readers find comfort in reading books on health subjects that touch them personally, but I don’t – they just bring back lots of memories I’d rather forget. So books about either cancer or dementia are no-nos for me, however well done they may be. It’s lucky I’ve never had a murderous butler or I’d probably have ended up not able to read vintage crime either… 😉

  7. Why do we read is such an interesting question and one I’ll have to think about but I agree Rose that for the writer it could be a way of understanding their own emotion and then strange how as a reader sometimes that chimes perfectly and I can’t believe how the writer has understood me so well and other times it feels intrusive and is a no go. Sorry if that’s all garbled. I do think a supply of light romance or cosy crime to hand is necessary!

  8. Comfort reading 🙂
    At least it’s better than comfort eating, although I’ve done that, too.

  9. There seem to be two types of people, those who want to immerse themselves in an emotional subject and those who prefer to avoid it. For me self-help books fall into the ‘immerse’ section, but loads of people like them.
    Glad you didn’t need to worry about having a murderous butler, but now I want to know if you had a butler who wasn’t murderous, or if you didn’t have a butler at all?

  10. Hahaha, I fear “having a butler” is still on my wishlist! Mind you, I’d settle for a maid… 😀

  11. I hadn’t really thought about why we read either until Sandra made that very interesting comment, but I’m certain that writers are working through their own issues by writing about them!
    It is a joy to connect with a book. Possibly more freeing in some ways because even though we feel as if we know the author, they don’t know us at all. I know exactly what you mean about the no go’s, we all seem to have our own.
    The Georgette Heyers and Agatha Christies (not that they are light or cosy) are a joy 🙂

  12. Sounds a very timely book Rose. I just saw the movie The father last night, which is about a father with dementia and his refusal to accept that he needs help. So well done.

    I haven’t experienced close dementia – three of my husband’s and my parents lived into their 90s (my Dad 100) but none suppered this. My mother’s cousin has dementia – she’s 93 – but lives in Sydney. I had suggested my Mum and I do a Sydney trip to see her a couple of years ago but my cousin suggested it would be too distressing for Mum and probably wouldn’t achieve much. She is in aged care, but is pretty content it appears. She was always a lovely sweet person and continues so I understand in this state. But, she lives on, which is interesting, as she’s had it for several years now.

  13. PS I’m one of those who seek novels out about things I’ve experienced. I want to understand the variety of responses, and where mine accords with others (which is comforting) and where it doesn’t (which can be enlightening). It can make me really sad, but usually doesn’t bring my mood down for a long time.

  14. Yes, how people deal with chronic or life-ending issues is timely for many of us. I received several comments from readers who felt that reading about dementia in particular was too close to their own experiences and that they felt unable to read Out of Time for this reason.
    I haven’t had first-hand experiences of close family suffering from dementia but seeing the experiences of others can see how difficult it is for all involved. I’ve also noticed how fearful my elderly family members and their friends are of learning they have dementia themselves. Your cousin’s advice for you and your Mum not to have visited Sydney was probably good in that the person your mother knew and loved was in many ways no longer there.
    My Dad always used to say that old age beat the alternative, but sometimes you have to wonder! Although in his case, Dad fought on well past the point where those who loved him were hoping he would let go.

  15. I agree. There is comfort in knowing we aren’t alone in our experiences or in how we reacted in similar situations. There is also a learning element, for example some readers might not have thought of a character’s response to a situation, regardless of whether or not they might do the same.
    As for feeling sad, it is part of life. So is feeling happy, content or hopeful. I think we need them all and despite feelings of sadness and loss I’m more grateful to have the memories of those people in my life than not.

  16. My mum used to say that, which I think is why she went gracefully when she saw her time had come. Dad though seemed more like your Dad. He kept on with a good brain but the physical failings made life not much fun. He would say he wanted to go but his actions to keep himself going belied those words.

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