Chapman, Toryn. The Grey Cat

Cubefarm Publishing, $23.95

Jill Barrett’s elderly father is unwell, and convalescing in hospital following a stroke, when her mother, Elizabeth, begins to behave unusually. Hospital staff advise Jill (herself a nurse) that her mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

During the next five years, Jill and her husband devote their time to Elizabeth, alongside their own paid work. ‘The Grey Cat’ recounts the experience.

A present-day carer’s story is complemented by memories from Elizabeth’s past, providing clues to understanding her later behaviour.

During the Great Depression, Elizabeth, along with her younger brother and sister, is sent to live in an orphanage following their mother’s mental breakdown.

Life in the orphanage is far from joyful, and although one particular plot turn is a little extravagant, most of the description of orphanage life comes straight from actual memoir and a Senate inquiry, as well as Chapman’s grandmother’s own memorabilia.

Although a work of fiction, The Grey Cat borrows heavily from the experience of Chapman’s mother while caring for her grandmother after she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Throughout, a grey cat loiters. A stray arrives at Elizabeth’s house soon after she becomes ill, and is a welcome comfort. Similarly, there was a grey cat present at the orphanage, a comfort for the younger Elizabeth. When she has to move to a hostel, and eventually a nursing home, another grey cat is present – this time, a stuffed animal.

This will be of particular interest to readers with similar experiences of caring for ailing elders.


Reviewed April 2011


Toryn Chapman