Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
|Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A profoundly clever, insightful, touching novel about someone with dementia desperate to be heard as she seeks her missing friend. Not only does it cross the gender divide, it's also a debut novel; yes really!!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: June 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2014
Longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2015
Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2015
Maud is a little forgetful as the rows of cooling cups of tea will attest. She also has a cupboard full of peaches for some reason but not to worry. She has a family who love her and rally round, a home help and her great friend Elizabeth. Come to think of it, Elizabeth seems to be missing and the notes that Maud writes herself each day keep reminding her of this. The problem is that no one will listen to her, let alone believe her. It also reminds Maud of something else; another disappearance a long, long time ago.
Please don't think me condescending or ageist when I say this, but debut author Emma Healey is young. I know – not something generally mentioned in a review unless it's relevant but in this case it is. Also I say it in a manner of awe and amazed praise rather than condescension. The reason? Emma has moved into the head of an elderly dementia-tormented woman with great ease. In fact Emma hasn't only produced a poignant, thrilling story that ambushes with gentle humour; she's taught me things about the condition I'd never realised. (The really scary thing is that when I too was young I used to nurse dementia patients!) Emma also enables us to enter Maud's mind but that's no hardship.
Maud is the most engaging, huggable person-in-a-novel since Harold Fry. Yes indeed, 'person-in-a-novel' – she's beyond 'character, she's real. We're with her watching the undrunk tea cups line up, wanting to hold her hand but, most importantly, wanting to find Elizabeth and desperate for others to hear.
As we go back and forth between now and Maud's youth, emphasising the prominence of long-term memory over short-term, we learn a lot about her and the gradually surfacing secrets. We not only realise a lot of her present-day apparently senseless mumblings and behaviour actually make sense but we also see how she's become haunted by a horrific episode from her teens. Indeed, when aligned with her youth even her most random actions are no longer random.
As Maud's condition worsens heart-wrenchingly, we begin to take more notice of her daughter Helen and realise how trying it must be. However, we come to this realisation without any doom saturated 'woe is me' narrative but with some gems of sensitively placed smiles and giggles. There's also an aura of uplift that accompanies the affection we feel for the family and the mystery, keeping us turning the pages.
Elizabeth is Missing isn't only powerful and affecting, it's cleverly plotted with a jaw-dropping twist near the end. (Yay Helen!) It definitely brought home to me the importance of not side-lining those who are condemned to live in the past. We all know that, but Emma demonstrates vividly, making this compulsory reading for all care workers and those of us who should care more. In this way, the mindset of all who meet a Maud, be it for a moment, a month or a lifetime shift for the better.
(Thank you so much Viking for providing us with a copy for review.)
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Robin Holleyhead said:
Hi I got through 60 exceedingly depressing pages with the same trick on every page, namely poor old Liz cannot remember a thing and nobody takes any notice of her. Poor book, poor Elizabeth. Robin
Brenda Graham said:
I'm loving this story!
The previous comments must have been made by someone with no understanding of dementia.
It is giving me insights into my mother's mind as she bravely takes on each day, living alone in her 90s, as Maud does.
Thank you, Emma, for this thoughtful, important novel.