I was contacted by the publisher of The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner to review this book. They thought I might like it as I live in Berlin and tweet a lot about mental health. I thought the same. What happened was that I actually ended up LOVING this book.
The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner begins with 80-year-old Alfred travelling from England to Berlin to meet his granddaughter for the first time. He has a family secret his must share in order to save her, and it must be told before he dies in 6 days time.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the main character, Alfred. I couldn’t help but love Alfred, in a granddaughter/grandfather type of way. He is first introduced as a wee boy and I warmed to him even then. I admired his sense of family and his morals. But he was also a character I felt slightly confused. *Spoiler Alert* Alfred spends some time enlisted as a Nazi soldier, not out of choice and it is certainly not a cause he believes in. Everything in life to this point told me is that people associated with Nazism should not be liked or forgiven. Yet I loved Alfred. A nice life complexity thrown in by the author, I think.
Although Alfred stood out to me, there were some other great characters in this book: Isobel, Julie, John, Alice. However, they never really came into their own when I would like to have known more about them. Nevertheless, they play their part well in the story, as catalysts of Alfred’s story.
The structure of the book was pretty unusual, but I liked it. Alfred’s story is told chronologically but by different narrators: himself, Julie and his granddaughter, Brynja. The narrators tied together very well and brought all periods of life together: Alfred’s past, his impending death and Brynja’s future.
Most of all, I loved how this book dealt with the notion of mental health. This book dealt with voice hearing, but, for me, it could have been removed and replaced by any mental health issue. What was important was that it showed any number of people could be dealing with the same illness, but how they handle it and how it affects them is completely different. It showed the reader how one solution does not suit all, and how important it is to help people believe they are not ‘crazy’, in want of a better word. I love Juliet Conlin for doing this.
This was probably the hardest book review I ever had to write. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I loved it way too much. I don’t think Joyful Antidotes can do the story justice. All I can recommend you to do is buy the book for you and all your friends.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.