Book group: An Extra Pair of Hands, by Kate Mosse

We read a memoir by a best-selling novelist who found herself a carer three times in middle age.

Kate Mosse is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, best known for her novels set in southwest France. However, her first book was about becoming a mother, and she’s returned to non-fiction with An Extra Pair of Hands

Although not specifically about dementia, this is a book about caring for relatives that draws on Kate’s own experiences.

An Extra Pair of Hands, by Kate Mosse

Caroline Branney, who manages our Dementia Knowledge Centre, says, ‘Mosse tells an absorbing story about her family, in particular the older generation.

‘This is intertwined with thoughts about ageing, caring and an account of life during the pandemic.’ 

Rosalind Smith, in Suffolk, was a full-time carer for her husband, John, for eight years. Kate’s experiences resonated greatly with her. 

‘This is a sensitive and perceptive book for carers,’ says Rosalind.

‘The author knows all about the frustrations, traumas and, thankfully, the joys of caring for loved ones. She found herself becoming the main carer for her father, and then in a supportive role for her mother and, later, for her rather feisty mother-in-law.’ 

Caroline says, ‘Mosse discusses the concept of the term “carer” and how it compares to “being caring” in the normal run of things.

‘She is conscious of her comfortable lifestyle compared to others, and comments on the impact of caring responsibilities, particularly on women’s lives.’

Three Rs 

Rosalind says, ‘All those of us who are, or have been, carers of close relatives will recognise the daily amount of effort and stamina that it takes in order to remain positive and optimistic, taking each day as it comes, accepting and allowing things to take as long as they take.

‘She mentions three Rs – routine, repetition and regularity. But even so, she often felt she was falling short much of the time. 

‘She became very alert to the slightest sound, especially during the dark hours of the night, when “too many things can go wrong” – when a stumble on the way to the bathroom can lead to a serious fall, when night terrors can take hold, when those with dementia find themselves lost in a world where time no longer exists.

‘These are the hardest times for everyone, both carer and the one they care for alike.’ 

Caroline says, ‘I particularly liked the description of a very quiet and ordered childhood, especially the 70s lifestyle and interesting personal histories.

‘These set the background to how she ended up living in a three-generational setting in 2009. 

‘At first, all seems fine and she has time to enjoy her parents’ company in different circumstances. Later things become more difficult, as her father’s health deteriorates and she experiences her mother’s grief and loneliness following his death.’

Lockdown star 

Caroline says, ‘Mosse captures lovely anecdotes about her mother and later her mother-in-law, Grannie Rosie, who is still amazingly active and becomes a bit of a media star during the first lockdown, entertaining neighbours on her keyboard.

‘The scenes of Rosie’s 90th birthday are heartwarming.’ 

Rosalind says, ‘Throughout it all she was well supported by her husband and together, as time went on, they were able to help all three of those being cared for to approach the end of their lives peacefully.

‘Memories shared, and then recalled again later after the person has passed on, can be invaluable. 

‘A lovely insightful book, with plenty of gentle humour. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone searching for emotional support, and the list of organisations included at the end provides a lot of practical help.’ 

An Extra Pair of Hands, by Kate Mosse (Profile 2021), 208 pages, £12.99, ISBN: 9781788162616. Also available as an ebook or audiobook. 

Your turn

For the next issue, we invite you to read What I Wish People Knew About Dementia, by Wendy Mitchell (Bloomsbury, 2022), 240 pages, £14.99, ISBN 9781526634481. Also available as an ebook. 

Tell us what you think about this second book from Wendy, who was diagnosed with young-onset dementia aged 58. Email us by the end of 2 March 2022 so we can share it in our next issue. 

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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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