Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

Published February 13, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

‘Elizabeth is missing.’ Maud keeps finding notes in her pockets with this message scrawled on it, but she can’t remember writing it. That said, she can’t remember much these days: the time of day, whether she’s eaten lunch, if her daughter’s come to visit, how much toast she’s eaten. Still, the notes about Elizabeth nag at her. When was the last time she spoke with her best friend? It feels like ages ago…

Frustratingly, no one seems willing to help Maud find her: not the police nor Elizabeth’s son – not even Maud’s own daughter or granddaughter. It’s like they’re hiding something.

Maud resolves to take matters into her own hands, and begins digging for the truth. There are many clues, but unhelpfully, they all seem to point to another unsolved disappearance: that of Maud’s sister Sukey just after the war.

Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance lead Maud to the truth about Elizabeth? As Maud’s mind retreats into the past at a frightening pace, alienating her from her family and carers, vivid memories of what happened over fifty years ago come flooding back to give her quest new momentum.

What did I think?:

I’ve read two books quite recently that have a similar theme – the frightening prospect of dementia and how it affects both the character and those nearest and dearest to them. Both books were also picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club here in the UK, the first was The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman, which I thoroughly enjoyed and this recent offering, Elizabeth Is Missing is from the Spring Book Club list this year. Our main character in this novel is an older woman called Maud, whom when the story opens is managing to live quite independently with just a few visits from her carer and her daughter Helen to keep an eye on her and stop her stockpiling tins of peaches by the truckload! Things seem to progress fairly rapidly as dementia sadly does and before long, even Maud’s hand-written notes to herself don’t seem to be helping any more and Helen begins to seriously worry about her mother being able to cope on her own.

The reader finds out quite early on that Maud has become fixated on the fact that her dear friend Elizabeth is missing but nobody seems to be doing anything about it which vexes and confuses her even more. Then we find out that when Maud was a teenager, her elder sister Sukey went missing in rather peculiar circumstances from her marital home that she shared with her rather hot-heated husband, Frank. The story switches from the present time where Maud as an old lady is desperately trying to find her friend, Elizabeth and the past, where Maud spent much of her teenage years trying to find out what had happened to her sister, Sukey. In this way, poor Maud begins to confuse and combine a lot of the details from the past and the present and finds herself in quite odd situations where she can’t remember what she was doing i.e. digging in the garden, being at the police station, placing rambling adverts in the newspaper. As the novel continues, and Maud’s state of mind unravels even further, exasperating and frustrating her daughter, there also seems to be a resolution or tying up of matters regarding Elizabeth and Sukey.

I think dementia has to be among one of my worst ever fears so I appreciate when an author handles the topic with just the right balance of sensitivity and humour. I loved that the story was told from the point of view of the character suffering with the disease and even though some parts were terribly sad, where Maud began to lose her sense of self, at points you could really see the old Maud creeping through – passionate and determined when there is a wrong to be righted. I felt I could also sympathise with the daughter Helen though, it must be incredibly frustrating at times to try and look after somebody with dementia and the whole novel had a bitter but wonderful authenticity that made me wonder whether the author has had personal experience with this debilitating condition. The other part of the novel, with the mysterious disappearance of Maud’s sister Sukey is also beautifully written and brings in a whole other dimension of what it is like to “lose” a person. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I was extremely satisfied with the way things were settled and I even felt a sense of hope for Maud for the future. Considering this is a debut novel, it is written so assuredly with a terrific dry wit that provides a fascinating look into something that is not often talked about but certainly should be.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


5 comments on “Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

  • This one’s not for me, having had too much experience of dementia to be able to read about it comfortably, but a great review as always. And I’ll certainly be interested in reading the author’s next book, given the positive vibe there has been around this one.

  • Hopping over from the British Books Challenge…

    What an interesting approach to the topic of dementia to mix it all up with a mystery or two. Sounds like a good read.

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