Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

I was reminded of this book, Elizabeth Is Missing, after reading Not Just A Mum of 3‘s review of the film Still Alice. I originally bought it on my weekly food shop as part of my ongoing quest to read every book about old people getting up to mischief in existence. This was not one of those books. It was so much more.

The central character is Maud, an elderly lady with dementia who is desperately trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth. Her daughter claims she’s fine; Elizabeth’s son says she’s been moved to a home; Maud knows something is wrong. There is a mystery to be solved, but neither we, Maud or any of the people in her life understand what it is until the very end.

The story is told exclusively from Maud’s point of view, which poses a problem that is very well handled. By the time we finish a page Elizabeth has forgotten the beginning, often she has forgotten the beginning of the sentence or paragraph. It makes it harder for us to piece together what is happening, but also gives a glimpse (and it can only be a glimpse, truely, I cannot imagine the pain and frustration of dementia or Alzheimer’s) of Maud’s confusion. It’s fantastically written and with Maud we slowly get to understand what is happening and what has happened. Notes falling out of her pockets help, as well as Maud’s memories of being a young women, to make us understand the nature of the mystery we’re trying to solve.

I don’t know how I classify this book (other than brilliant). Is it a thriller? A detective novel? A grissly murder case? A family drama? A book about an old woman getting up to mischief? All of the above? It feels like so many things at once without being overwhelming or over the top. We feel sympathy for Maud’s distressed daughter (so many peach slices), excitement and then fear for her sister (in flashbacks from seventy years past) and, of course, confusion along with Maud (what is it about the marrows?).

I wouldn’t say that this is the easiest of reads, purely because there are so many scattered clues throughout the story that are so easily missed. Lots of loose threads don’t come together until the end, which is satisfying, but requires a certain level of concentration. Still, I would recommend it completely and haven’t stopped telling people about it since I first read it this year.

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