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How would you solve a crime if you can’t remember what happened?

November 19, 2014

“Elizabeth is missing”,  the debut novel by Emma Healey, is in my opinion, perfectly written – there is absolutely nothing I would add,  change or delete.  And believe me, as a librarian, I don’t often say that.

Elizabeth-is-Missing-final-UK-cover-copyThe main character is Maud, an eighty-two year old woman with rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s disease.  Healey portrays Maud with amazing insight, and anyone who has experienced dealing with a loved one who has dementia will easily recognise the signs.  In that regard, I found it a rather confronting read as my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s too, and this story brought back some unwelcome memories.  But taking it one confronting chapter at a time, I did finish it – although it was a bit annoying as it’s one of those books you really don’t want to put down, but I found I had to!

The novel presents simultaneous mysteries. In the present day, what has happened to Maud’s good friend Elizabeth?  Her house is empty, her son is selling off her things.  Interspersed with flash backs of what happened to her older sister Sukey?  She disappeared without trace 70 years previously, and although Sukey’s husband Frank and good friend Douglas were suspects, the mystery was never solved and Maud never got over it.

In the beginning, Maud realises she has been getting forgetful so she writes notes to remind herself of things.  Copious notes in fact, sprinkled around the house and all through her pockets – unfortunately, when she finds them, she cannot fathom what they mean.  As Maud loses more and more of her cognitive abilities and starts to not recognize people and things, and forget words (like, sandwiches become ‘stuffed and buttered breads cut into squares’), the reader can sense her frustration at trying to both solve the mystery of Elizabeth without being able to explain anything to anyone properly, and her difficulty differentiating the past (Sukey) from the present.

Healey also does an excellent job also with the character of Helen, Maud’s daughter, who is exasperated and frustrated by her mother.  At the start of the story, she believes her mother is more capable than she is and that she is wilfully misbehaving, but her understanding progresses through the book – as does ours – so that by the end the sub-plot of the relationship between them has changed remarkably.

And the two mysteries are also quite fascinating, especially as Healey is very adept at red herrings.  A very satisfying and enlightening read, that would make an excellent movie as well.  This one might make it onto my very exclusive bookshelf!    5/5

Read another review from The Independent

– Natalie

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From → New Books, Review

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