Thursday 1 October 2020

Joe Faber and the Optimists - Gill Oliver

Inspired by the author’s experience as a caregiver. Fuel for the heart.

Joe Faber is a funny guy, good with his hands, and great with words – until the stroke which leaves him severely disabled. But this is more than his story. There’s Fran, Joe’s wife, who draws up her manifesto and decides to act like an optimist; she hasn’t planned to be a carer. Their talented daughter Jess, who turns her trouble into music. While Jess’s fiancé Matt, the management trainer, innocent, positive and daft, will do his best to keep them all on target.

Art School training made Joe a close observer of the world, but once he leaves hospital, how does the world see him? And care is erratic. So will Fran have to give up the job she loves? Can Matt’s energetic but insensitive sister be trusted to organise the wedding? There’s heartbreak and absurdity along the way; but humour is the family’s greatest asset in the drive to get Joe back on his own two feet. You’ll hear some wonderful fiddle music, and visit some magical Shetland places. Besides being fiercely honest about a tough subject, Gill Oliver's second novel is marked by a zest for life, and will surprise you right to the end.

What did I think?

I feel fortunate to be able to say that I have never encountered a stroke in my family, although I know about FAST (face, arms, speech and time) to remember the most common warning signs of a stroke.  Although one of the main characters in the book suffers a severe stroke, this is such a wonderful story of a warm and loving family, filled with positivity which of course you can guess from the title of the book.

Joe, Fran and Jess are a fantastic family of three and they are understandably devastated by Joe's stroke.  Jess has just got engaged so she's about to fly the nest which leaves Fran as the sole wage-earner.  I really felt for Fran as she was torn between leaving her job to care for Joe full time and leaving him in the hands of carers so she could earn a wage.  Fran decides that she and Jess could worry and wallow in self-pity or should could take the glass half full approach and be optimistic.  Of course they have their wobbles, but on the whole they embrace the optimistic approach and I could really see how much this helped Joe.

Rather than focus on Joe, Gill Oliver has written a story that encompasses the whole Faber family and we encounter some marvellous characters.  I loved the story about Jess being invited to play in the Shetland Folk Frenzy (it's a real event, google it!) and it really gave Joe something to aim towards, however ambitious the doctors thought it was.  Continuing the strong theme of family, Jess has an auntie and cousins on the isles and what colourful characters they are!  I wish I could say I loved all the characters but the parents of Jess's fiancé, Matt, are a nightmare.  I had to admire Fran's restraint on occasion.

Joe Faber and the Optimists is a wonderfully warm and hopeful story about how one family copes with a stroke.  The thing that really came through loud and clear for me is that although the person may look and sound different after a stroke, we need to remember that they're still the same funny, kind, intelligent, amiable or cantankerous (delete as appropriate) person that we love.

A thoroughly enjoyable read whether or not you've been affected by stroke, Joe Faber and the Optimists really ought to be recommended reading in stroke clinics around the world.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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