Today I’m reviewing Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.
In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an 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?
I’d heard a great deal about ‘Elizabeth is Missing’, and I had been meaning to read it for a long time, as I knew it was about an elderly lady who suffered dementia. It’s a subject which interests me personally and I was intrigued about how the author approached this illness in a novel.
I was not disappointed in this poignant, yet humorous novel, which deals with memory, identity and aging.
The narrator, Maud, is 82 and she is suffering from dementia. Maud is moving in with her daughter, Helen, and her granddaughter, whom she often forgets, however her long-term memory is vivid albeit sketchy.
Maud is obsessed with finding her friend and neighbour, Elizabeth, whom she insists is missing. Her obsessive search, including trips to the police station, are some of the most humorous parts of the novel.
However, her confused mind is also still searching for a sister who disappeared when she was a teenager, in 1946. Past and present are entwined in the narration as we see events from her confused point of view.
I enjoyed the first part very much, however the second half dragged for me, as I anxiously waited for the plot to move forward, which didn’t happen until the last two chapters, where the mystery is unveiled.
I enjoyed the originality of the novel and Maud’s first person narration. Many unreliable narrators in contemporary novels are manipulative or downright wicked, but Maud’s confused voice is honest, believable, humourous and heartbreaking.
Readers can expect a slow burn mystery told from the unique perspective of an endearing and unwittingly humorous, main character who is suffering from dementia.
Elizabeth is Missing is a very special novel. It is Emma Healey’s debut and was named best first novel at the Costa Book Awards 2015. Maud was was inspired by the author’s grandmothers.
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