In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?
This is a remarkable debut novel full of insight into the day to day life of someone suffering from dementia, and the impact that this terrible syndrome has on family and friends caring for the dementia sufferer. What amazed me most is the way in which this sad decline is portrayed so well, obviously Elizabeth Healey had first hand knowledge of dementia.
The following passage is taken from Elizabeth Healey’s website:http://emmahealey.co.uk/
In 2008, after the death of one grandmother and the decline of the other, she began to explore the idea of dementia in fiction, and she moved to Norwich in 2010 to study for the MA in Creative Writing at UEA. She is the winner of the 2014 Costa First Novel Award for Elizabeth is Missing.
But what is even more remarkable is the way in which Elizabeth Healey has taken a very sad and serious subject and given it a somewhat humorous voice.
“Oh, Helen,” I say. “I’ve been meaning to tell you. That girl you’ve hired, she doesn’t do any work. None. I’ve watched her.” “Who are you talking about now? What girl?” “The girl,” I say. “She leaves plates by the sink and there are clothes all over the floor of her room.” Helen grins and bites her lip. “Pretty good description. Mum, that’s Katy.”
Of course Katy is Maud’s granddaughter.
It’s as if Maud, the aging dementia sufferer is vaguely aware that something’s wrong and she’s almost laughing at the crazy things she does. Like her buying heaps of peaches because she can’t remember what it is she ought to be buying. She has masses of paper messages to remind her what she should be doing, yet she seems to remember events of the past in some detail.
As the novel progresses, the humourous passages begin to disappear and are replaced by Maud’s decline as her dementia progresses. There is a sense of Maud’s memory slipping even further and therefore inevitably Elizabeth is Missing is at times a sad read, so be prepared for that.
The little things that are forgotten, suddenly seem to matter so much to Maud, her frustration is palpable:
“I don’t look up. It’s such a little thing—knowing where to put cutlery—but I feel like I’ve failed an important test. A little piece of me is gone.”
Elizabeth is Missing also works so well as a mystery. A little piece of Maud is missing and her friend Elizabeth is missing too and this inability to find Elizabeth distresses Maud terribly. This is the one thing that she clings to, the one fact that she is sure about. Maud is determined to find her much to the dismay of her family, and the police:
“I have been to the police station four times. I know because I have written it down. Four times, and they will do nothing. They think I’m a dotty old woman. I think they might be right. “
Alongside this there is also the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister Sukey, who vanished many years ago. The two plot threads interweave in a totally entertaining and engrossing way, enabling us to get an insight into the youthful Maud too, who seems somewhat in the shadow of her older sister Sukey.
So would I recommend Elizabeth is Missing?
Yes absolutely. Highly recommended to readers of Mystery, Fiction, Contemporary, and Adult Fiction.
Have you read Elizabeth is Missing? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx