Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Natural Elements

The cover art for Richard Mason's novel, Natural Elements is attractive and it caught my attention at the library. Not wishing to select a book for its cover, I quickly read the first several pages, decided I'd like to read more, then I checked it out.

The novel is set in 2000-something London and South Africa and in South Africa and London during the time of the Boer War (around 1899 - 1902). Using the relationship between elderly Joan and her middle-aged daughter, Eloise, as the frame, Richard Mason manages to tell a modern story about a child dealing with her aging mother and the extra care she needs in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. At the same time, and as a part of Joan's memories that she thinks are currently happening in her life, Mason also tells about Joan's childhood and the history of her family in South Africa, particularly the hard times experienced during the second Boer War when the family farm was destroyed and the Boer settlers were rounded up and confined to a concentration camp of sorts.

The strangeness of Joan's thoughts and emotions as she slips deeper into Alzheimer's seems very realistic, as does Eloise's frustration and love for her mother and her desire to get the very best care for her mother.

Mason drew upon his own family history in South Africa for a lot of the story, and I found the historical bits fascinating. It turned out to be a book that lived up to its cover.



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