A first novel that takes a memorable look at the stranger into which age and illness can transform a person. Recently, Selma Merryman lost her husband and gained speed in her descent into senile dementia. Selma's son, Robert, shipped mother off to Cherryfield retirement home, sold her house, and set out for Brazil -- leaving his sister, Dagmar Lindsay, and Dagmar's daughter, Amelia, to deal with Selma. Whether she is charming or irascible, confused or lucid, Selma loathes Cherryfield and insists on returning to the home she thinks is still hers. Dagmar is all but useless: She is focused on herself, busily coping with an almost debilitating obsession with cleanliness that dominates her continuously disinfected life. It is Amelia who visits the ""large, malfunctioning child"" her grandmother is becoming and who whisks Selma off to Abbotslea (where Amelia lives with country solicitor Gerald Forbes) after a disturbing episode in which the Cherryfield powers-that-be boil the home's fish tank full of guppies. When the pair arrives at Abbotslea, it becomes clear that Gerald has been planning a surprise that is every bit as unpleasant as boiled guppies. Nevertheless, Amelia affectionately (and sometimes frustratedly) stands by her grandmother, with whom even a trip to the supermarket can be an adventure, until Selma, forgetting that she gave up smoking in 1959, sets herself on fire. With Selma hospitalized and in worse shape than ever, Amelia recognizes that a return to Cherryfield is inevitable. But how will she be able to fulfill her grandmother's fondest wish, which is to spend Christmas in the home where she spent most of her life? By keeping Amelia short of sainthood and by judiciously exploiting a sense of the absurd, Cobbold positions her tale on a scrap of territory between the maudlin and the farcical and makes it delightful.