I’d seen a lot of good things about The Six Loves of Billy Binns but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about – it just felt like it was going to be one of those books that I’d enjoy.
Luckily for you, I’m going to give you a little summary of what it’s about so you can decide for yourselves if you’ll enjoy it (you will).
Billy Binns is 117 years old, he’s the oldest man in Europe and the longest-serving resident of his care home, having been there for over thirty years.
He’s your typical, sweet old man, but – as you’d imagine for someone approaching his thirteenth decade – he’s pretty frail and his memory is failing him.
He decides to write down his own potted history, exploring the relationships he experienced in his life so that he can share them with his son Archie, the next time he comes to visit.
The book flips back and forth between Billy as an old man and Billy’s younger life – a method that works well to put you in Billy’s fragmented memories. He starts off as young a boy, innocent but curious and then begins to grow up into a man who makes mistakes – some quite big ones, some perhaps unforgivable.
In a way, the book makes me think of a cross between Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie and Anne Griffin’s recent When All is Said.Both concern older people approaching the end of their lives, reflecting on their past.
The difference between them is I a hundred per cent believe their account of things, even Cannon’s Florence who is suffering from dementia… but there’s something about Billy where even at the end of the book, I’m not sure we completely know the truth.
That’s because we see everything from his point of view, we don’t see anybody else’s version of events and there’s enough vagueness in Billy’s to make you realise it’s only an interpretation not necessarily an accurate count.
What this novel does succeed in doing is making the reader think about the nature of aging and how easily their interpretation can be dismissed. There is one thing about his past that is contradicted by a staff-member at the care home and from then on, I immediately began to doubt everything he was telling me.
The lasting thought though is how he has spent thirty plus years in a care home. We all like to think that when our time comes, if we have to spend any of it in a home, that it will be brief, but to spend a third of your life in one is a scary thought.
Sometimes the only thing scarier than dying is living forever.
The Six Loves of Billy Binns is available now from Tinder Press