Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Posted 2014-09-03 by Catherine Van Bergenfollow

Maud Horsham is in her eighties and a bit more forgetful than most. Battling the onset of dementia, Maud’s life revolves around trying to work out what has happened to her best friend Elizabeth, who appears to be missing. She enlists the help of her long-suffering daughter Helen, her carers, the police and even Elizabeth’s ‘no good’ son Peter, but for some reason or other, they refuse to believe that there is anything wrong. As a result, Maud has to rely on her ever-failing memory and handwritten notes to try and solve the mystery of her absent friend. While searching for clues, she comes across items and situations that trigger memories from seventy years past. It was around this time that Maud’s older sister Sukey went missing in the same town, and in her confused state, Maud starts to draw parallels between the two disappearances. Meanwhile, life goes on around our elderly protagonist, as she makes cups of tea she forgets to drink and travels to places by bus without remembering how she got there. All that she remembers (with the aid of her notes), is that Elizabeth is missing, and she’s the only one who can find her…

Alternating between the past and the present, this is a highly engrossing debut novel, which flits between several genres- mystery, humour, and a little bit of drama. Maud’s determinedness to get to the bottom of the mystery is interspersed with bouts of confusion and misunderstanding, and while it may seem as though the author is diverting from the plotline, she is actually adding to the backstory (involving the disappearance of Maud’s sister) and allowing readers to see the effect that dementia is having on Maud’s mental state. Constant repetition (as Maud forgets what has just happened), an occasional inability to recognise her daughter or granddaughter, and forgetting the names of simple items like chairs and frogs help readers to emphasise with Maud and those around her as she struggles to make sense of the world.

Mental illness can be a difficult topic to write about. Even writers who are intimate with the symptoms of a disease or illness can find it difficult to express in words the effect that is has on those around the sufferer. While the writer may be able to touch on some of the feelings involved, it’s rare for the reader to fully understand the frustrations and confusions that the characters are experiencing. Somehow, Healey is able to put her readers into two different camps at the same time- she shows us how things are from Maud’s confused perspective, but she also allows us to see Maud’s forgetfulness in the lives of those around her, and sympathise with them as they deal with the problems she inadvertently causes. Healey’s novel does a terrific job of showing how the onset of dementia can affect more people than just the sufferer, and while many authors could have failed at making this plotline come to life, she has more than succeeded at the challenge.


253529 - 2023-07-19 07:46:28


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