Book Review: All the Words We Know by Bruce Nash

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, shares his thoughts on the new novel by Bruce Nash All the Words We Know.

The NSW-residing Nash’s third novel could potentially prove intimidating for some readers because its unreliable narrator is Rose, a woman in her 80s who’s suffering from dementia, and is attempting to solve several mysteries that might be taking place in her aged-care facility… or might not.

However, it’s hard not to like – and fear for – Rose, a former teacher who plays with language in her scrambled mind, loves her grown-up kids and phone-addicted granddaughters despite driving them all crazy, and keeps realising that she might be in serious danger… and then forgetting.

Her ‘friend’ in the next room (whom she mostly doesn’t like) seems to have died under suspicious circumstances, and Rose suspects the staff of something, but when she tries to explain what’s supposedly going on to her evasive son and despairing daughter, they don’t know what she’s talking about. She wanders the halls looking for clues, most of which she can’t remember later, and all of this detective work eventually jogs memories of her own past life: who she is, what she’s doing there, and some of the things she works so hard at recalling.

There’s much here that’s darkly funny, especially when Rose keeps lapsing into mock-‘corporate-speak’ (and all that awful “moving forward” talk), but Nash subtly warns us, time and again, that she’s right to suspect that bad things are afoot. But what are they? And can she hold that information in her mind before it evaporates?

A difficult read, particularly if you’re afraid that you might eventually go the way of Rose yourself, and yet Nash’s latest novel is still very moving and even enjoyable, despite itself.

Now if only Rose could put the words she knows in the right order…

Bruce Nash (Allen & Unwin), 321pp, RRP $32.99 (paperback)

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