The book tells the tale of a ninety-nine-year-old woman whom we meet in a mental hospital, which is about to be demolished, and so the hospital psychiatrist is required to assess each patient to determine why they are there and what is the best thing for them in the future. In the process he begins to look into the past history of this particular patient, and her story unfolds. It's terribly sad, but beautifully rendered, and for all that sounds grim, it's full of grace and hope. Here are a few snippets (I wish I'd underlined more, as there a lovely things said about memory, and the telling of our histories, that I can't find now).
Well, all speaking is difficult, whether peril attends it or not. Sometimes peril to the body, sometimes a more intimate, miniature, invisible peril to the soul. When to speak at all is a betrayal of something, perhaps a something not even identified, hiding inside the chambers of the body like a scared refugee in a site of war.
There has never been a person in an old people’s home that hasn’t looked around dubiously at the other inhabitants. They are the old ones, they are the club that no one wants to join. But we are never old to ourselves. That is because at close of day the ship we sail in is the soul, not the body.
What can I tell you further? I once lived among humankind, and found them in their generality to be cruel and cold, and yet could mention the name of three or four that were like angels.
I suppose we measure the importance of our days by those few angels we spy among us, and yet aren’t like them.
If our suffering is great on account of that, yet at close of day the gift of life is something immense. Something larger than old Sligo mountains, something difficult but oddly bright, that makes equal in their fall the hammers and the feathers.
And like the impulse that drives an old maid to make a garden, with a meagre rose and a straggling daffodil, gives a hint of some coming paradise.