Naomi Kruger’s beautifully written debut novel May is a story about how we remember the past, what we choose to hold on to and what must be let go. It centres around May, an elderly women living with dementia in a residential care facility. The novel is structured around a single day in May’s life. May’s own voice is the leitmotif running throughout the novel. After each chapter we hear fragmented snippets of her thoughts which allow us an insight into the confusion and cacophony of different memories and ideas all competing for May’s attention.
The chapters of the novel are narrated by a handful of different people who’ve had an impact on May. We hear from her daughter, Karen, her grandson, Alex, May’s husband, Arthur and Sana, the young female carer who’s grown close to her in the nursing home. Each of them gives us a little more understanding of May’s story and helps us piece together both who she was and who she now is. Kruger also slowly reveals a decades old mystery which May has become more and more obsessed with since her move into the nursing home. The multiple narrative voices work well here. They’re each strong and developed enough to feel like complete stories in their own right. Though they patch together May’s personal story, they also show how each of the characters has been influenced and impacted by their relationship with her. I particularly appreciated this. Often in dementia narratives, it falls to secondary characters to shape and establish the character living with dementia. Here the secondary characters have been just as impacted by encountering May as she is shaped by their testimonies.
May is an exquisitely written novel. The prose is clean but warm. It doesn’t sentimentalize the family’s relationship with May or approach her illness too emotionally. However, the fondness is apparent, particularly in her grandson’s and Sana’s narratives. I loved the humour Kruger brought to the scenes which showcase interactions with the residents of the nursing home. May is also notable for its exploration of the fractured thought processes of someone living with advanced dementia. We are given multiple opportunities to see how May’s thoughts have become confused and distorted. Kruger does a stellar job in translating this confusion into words.
May was published by Seren Books in 2018