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We Spread

de Iain Reid

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3241781,421 (3.71)7
"Penny, an artist, has lived in the same apartment for decades, surrounded by the artifacts and keepsakes of her long life. She is resigned to the mundane rituals of old age, until things start to slip. Before her longtime partner passed away years earlier, provisions were made, unbeknownst to her, for a room in a unique long-term care residence, where Penny finds herself after one too many "incidents." Initially, surrounded by peers, conversing, eating, sleeping, looking out at the beautiful woods that surround the house, all is well. She even begins to paint again. But as the days start to blur together, Penny--with a growing sense of unrest and distrust--starts to lose her grip on the passage of time and on her place in the world. Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging, or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?"--… (més)
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Es mostren 1-5 de 17 (següent | mostra-les totes)
This was a Goodreads giveaway.
I enjoyed reading this book, it was everything I was expecting it to be when I read the note from the publisher. The beginning of it reminded me of someone close to me that has since passed away. The ambiguity of what is actually happening throughout most of the book after the main character arrives at the "home" was interesting and thought-provoking. I liked pondering over whether the character was imagining what was happening or if the place and characters were actually as sinister as she came to believe. It has the haziness which is reminiscent of old-age and how we start to see the world as time passes. There was something that I couldn't put my finger on that felt undone however, and maybe even slightly annoying, towards the end of the novel - this resulted in the four-star rating. ( )
  Bambean | May 20, 2024 |
I finished reading We Spread a month ago and I’ve sat on this review because I couldn’t decide what to do about it. This is a positive because it means the book is great and there would be lots to talk about, but I’ve had a hard time trying to articulate my thoughts on it. Really, I think it would benefit from a second read but I didn’t quite love it enough to devote time to starting it again quite yet. Perhaps one day I might come back to it for a more complete analysis but for now I’ll share a scattering of my thoughts and some discussions I’ve found online.

I have never read anything by Iain Reid before, nor had I heard of him. I was drawn to We Spread simply because it was 99p on a Kindle deal and it had this quote from Mona Awad on the cover.


‘I loved this book and couldn’t put it down – a deeply gripping, surreal and wonderfully mysterious novel. Not only has Reid given us a brilliant page turner, but a profoundly moving meditation on life and art, death and infinity. Reid is a master’
Mona Awad, author 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl and All’s Well


This succinct little summary (she’s so good at that) highlights things I love in her work, and I would very much like to find mother authors who write this kind of book (I will take recs in the comments)! I’ve been around the block enough to take quotes from other authors on the cover of books with a huge pinch of salt, but in that case, I absolutely agree. This book is all those things!

Summary
The story centres on the lonely, elderly Penny who finds herself admitted to an unusual retirement home after she suffers a fall changing a lightbulb in her apartment. At first, she enjoys the comforts of the small community but as she suffers unexplained slips in memory she begins to feel that something is very wrong at Six Cedars.

The story is told in an immediate first-person perspective and short sections which give it a real sense of unsettled urgency and made it highly bingeable. Neither Penny nor the reader can get a grip on what’s happening before another skip in time with lost memory. Like Penny, the reader is always disorientated.

I can’t think of another book I have read with a protagonist in this age bracket. It was a refreshing change in perspective, but also quite challenging as it made me think about the struggles of my own grandparents (and also the future for my parents, and myself).

Penny is on her own, which is how she ends up in the retirement home. She never had children and lived alone after her partner died, and she lives an isolated life as so many elderly people now do. I think most of us carry feelings of guilt and shame over how the elderly are treated and cared for, and often the responsibility is handed to strangers (like Shelley and Jack). It’s difficult to be confronted with such a raw depiction of Penny’s experience.

Getting old is terrifying.

But what is actually happening!?
If you are the type of reader who likes a clean-cut ending then this will not be the book for you! With this one, the ambiguity is the point, and I personally enjoy this type of open to interpretation ending, when its been well crafted. It is backed up with strong themes (aging, creativity and purpose, zero and infinity, community) and recurring motifs that do make this novel very fun to pick at. It absolutely can be read in several different ways and it’s entirely open for the reader to decide how much of the novel was real.

At the heart of the whole novel is Penny, and she is an unreliable narrator. She might have been suffering dementia and it was all within her own mind, or there were sinister experiments being done to her. Or both.

I actually think both is the scarier version for me. Both things being true means we have an extra evil taking advantage of vulnerable, while pretending empathy.

This bit will discuss general plot details but no specific spoilers, skip past if you don’t want to know anything!

(view spoiler)[My personal interpretation is that it was a combination of Penny’s deteriorating mind and some weird shit really was happening. After all, she was leaving the post-it notes for herself before she went to Six Cedars. She was already hearing voices, and losing track of time. On the other hand, there were a lot of odd things about the home that don’t feel specifically connected to Penny – only 4 residents and none of them had people to check in on them; they all had a special talent (each about making connections – painting, languages, music and maths); the conversation overheard between Shelley (a clear Frankenstein reference!) and an unfamiliar male; and of course the many references to the Pando tree that give the novel it’s title (Latin for “I spread”). (hide spoiler)]

I have some more discussion on my blog!

Iain Reid is now on my radar!
I don’t think this is a 5 star book, as much as it got my juices flowing it has left me with a sense that something wasn’t quite finished about it. I don’t know what that thing is but something felt missing for it to be truly satisfying. However, it absolutely has put this author on my radar! I will be on the look out for Foe and I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (I’ve seen that there is an adaption for this on Netflix, but not watched it.).

If you like weird fiction, if you like unreliable narrators and ambiguity and picking over a book to find your own interpretation you will probably love this! If you like the work of Mona Awad you will probably love this.

If you do not like those things, if you need a clear cut ending that gives you all the answers, then steer clear of this one!

If you’ve read it, I’d love to discuss!



REVIEW SUMMARY

I LIKED

- The reader is completely along for the ride with Penny, with all her disorientation, confusion and paranoia. Engrossing, urgent reading.
- Refreshing (and challenging) to have the perspective of an elderly protagonist.
- Strong themes and motifs to play with for each reader to find their own interpretation.

I DIDN’T LIKE

- It did feel a little bit unfinished somehow. I can’t put my finger on it but it didn’t leave me with 5 stars excitement!



View all my reviews ( )
  ImagineAlice | Mar 2, 2024 |
Since the death of her partner, a painter of renown, Penny has been living alone in her urban apartment. Penny is also a painter, but, as she tells us early in the book, she never exhibited her work due to a lack of confidence and feelings that her canvases were never truly finished. In fact, Penny has not picked up a brush for many years. Still, though frail and occasionally confused, she’s been managing on her own. But Penny’s fortunes take a dire turn when she suffers a fall in her kitchen while trying to change a light bulb. She lays dazed and immobilized for an unspecified time, but is eventually discovered by Mike, the building superintendent. Penny finds subsequent events alarming and disorienting. Apparently, Penny and her partner (who remains unnamed throughout the novel) had together arranged that when they were no longer able to care for themselves, they would be moved to a small assisted-living facility called Six Cedars, situated at the edge of the forest some miles outside the city. Mike—who seems to know more about Penny’s affairs than she does—takes care of everything: packing her things, shipping them, and driving Penny to the facility. Penny has no recollection of making such an arrangement and is duly suspicious and fearful. But Six Cedars is a welcoming place with two live-in staff—Shelley and Jack—and only three other residents: Ruth, Hilbert and Pete. Penny settles in and finds an almost immediate connection with Hilbert, who’s always neatly dressed, is fascinated by numbers, and makes her laugh. For a while, things seem okay. She even starts painting again. But gradually her suspicions are aroused when she suspects her freedoms are being restricted for reasons that are not made clear. Most disturbing for Penny: her sense of the passage of time seems to be warped. And during her nighttime wanderings through the building, she makes a number of observations that to her, in the absence of context, seem distressing. The reader, watching this unfold through Penny’s uncertain perspective, wonders if what she’s witnessing is real or the product of a mind slowly losing its grip on reality. The tension builds as questions about what’s really going on multiply. Why, for example, is Jack so upset? What is Shelley really up to? For most of its length Iain Reid’s third novel is undeniably gripping. As a novel written from the perspective of a dementia sufferer, We Spread is genuinely intriguing and even at times moving. However, not everything that happens here makes sense. And the ending, which comes too suddenly, fails to resolve Penny’s story in a satisfying manner, leaving many important questions unanswered. ( )
  icolford | Feb 7, 2024 |
Descent into Dementia or ?
Review of the Simon & Schuster Canada hardcover (September 27, 2022).

I went into this book with a preconceived notion. Partly that was due to being introduced to it at this year's Lakefield Literary Festival near Toronto where it was paired for discussion with Catherine Hernandez' The Story of Us, which also has a dementia subplot. Surprisingly I see it referred to on Goodreads as being a horror book with even the author denying (see Wikipedia link below, but note that it includes spoilers) that it was about dementia.

My own experience with dementia patients has been through regular visits to a long-term care facility here in Ontario, Canada where 2 of my relatives were living until recently. The encounters with many other residents there had all the various characteristics of dementia. There was forgetfulness of course, the loss of time awareness, the secrecy of hiding things due to the so-called Sundowner Syndrome, the paranoia and hallucinations, the wish to leave the home, the occasional discomfort of unwanted physical touching, the obscenities of uncontrolled Tourette's Syndrome where someone's speech was a constant stream of expletives, etc. You had to always be aware of your surroundings in case you needed to call on a nurse or personal care worker for assistance.

So, in any case, the journey of Penny in the book We Spread seemed to me to be a total and faithful account of the gradual descent into dementia with the various signposts along the way. The author apparently feels that the explanation is open to interpretation and that Penny's paranoia is partially due to the odd setting of the care facility she is in. But it never felt malevalent or suspicious to me. I read it completely as Penny being unreliable narrator due to her condition.

Observing me, selecting me, preying on me because I’m old and alone. Maybe I didn’t pick this place. Maybe I was picked. Selected. Now that I’m here, she has each day planned for us. Meals and naps. She decides when we wake up and when we go to bed. There’s no one to check up on me, visit, or ask how I’m doing here. She would know that.


I try to open the front doors, where Mike and I walked in together on the first day, but they’re locked. The front door is the only door with locks. The keypad is beside the door with numbers and letters on it. I’ve never been held against my will before. Never in my life. I’ve always been able to go outside when I want. To breathe the fresh air and feel the wind. I’m about to push some buttons at random, to see if I can guess the code, to get outside…


This house is a maze. These hallways aren’t what they appear to be. They’re longer. Or shorter, depending on the day. They’re narrow at night, wider in the morning. They change, these hallways, depending on who is walking them and at what point in their life they’re in them.


The fact that the book is open to interpretation is a strong feature though and you read it with your own background and preconceived notions. For me it was a faithful and compassionate view of the difficult passage into the mental difficulties of aging. I read We Spread through being introduced to it at the 2023 Lakefield Literary Festival. It is the final book of 7 which I've reviewed from the festival in the past several months.

See photograph at https://scontent-ord5-2.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t39.30808-6/360094082_24345228881742568_1...
Author Iain Reid (right) in discussion with moderator John Boyko (left) and author Catherine Hernandez (middle) (The Story of Us (2023)) at the 2023 Lakefield Literary Festival, Canada.

Other Reviews
A Fine Piece of Weird Fiction by Nina Allan, The Guardian, November 4, 2022.
Just what is going on at the Six Cedars retirement home? by Steven W. Beattie, Toronto, September 23, 2022.

Trivia and Links
Read an interview with the author and an introduction to the book at CBC Books, September 1, 2022.
Read an informative Wikipedia article about the book (but note Spoilers) with some background from the author here. ( )
  alanteder | Nov 27, 2023 |
This is a high residue book.
I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, is it a horror story about a strange home where people are being linked together through fungus? On the other, is it simply (and horrifyingly) a story about the progression through madness with dementia and old age? In either case it’s unsettling.
As I age, the thought of being under the care and control of strangers grows more and more terrifying. This book didn’t help with this…
Iain Reid writes sparingly, beautifully, giving the feeling of gradual enclosure and smothering through the use of his intense prose. Penny’s growing confusion is captured so effectively, so terrifyingly, the feeling lingers well after the book is done.
Yikes.
( )
  Dabble58 | Nov 11, 2023 |
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"Penny, an artist, has lived in the same apartment for decades, surrounded by the artifacts and keepsakes of her long life. She is resigned to the mundane rituals of old age, until things start to slip. Before her longtime partner passed away years earlier, provisions were made, unbeknownst to her, for a room in a unique long-term care residence, where Penny finds herself after one too many "incidents." Initially, surrounded by peers, conversing, eating, sleeping, looking out at the beautiful woods that surround the house, all is well. She even begins to paint again. But as the days start to blur together, Penny--with a growing sense of unrest and distrust--starts to lose her grip on the passage of time and on her place in the world. Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging, or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?"--

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