Meet Maud, she is in her eighties, suffering from dementia and looking for her dear friend from the Oxfam shop Elizabeth. Elizabeth is missing says one of the many notes she finds in her pocket, by her chair or on the hallway table, next to five undrunk cups of tea.
Anyone who knows someone who is in the early stages of this disease will find this quite hard to read at times. The confusion that rolls into the moments of lucidity is faithfully reproduced on each page as Maud scrabbles around her confused mind trying to solve, not one, but two puzzles. Where is Elizabeth and what happened to her sister Sukey. Married Sukey disappeared at the end of the war and has never been seen since. Maud’s daughter Helen bears the brunt of her repetitive questions regarding Elizabeth but the puzzle of Sukey’s disappearance is relayed to the reader through internal monologues detailing snatches of memory, far sharper than those of the recent past.
This was an engaging read but having finished the book and had time to reflect I’m not entirely sure on how much substance there was to the mystery aspects. Overall the ceaseless march of dementia was the overriding theme of the book and not any worse because of that but the puzzle felt more of a device than the purpose.
A clever book, in that it portrays the elderly protagonist as a person with a past, one with feelings for others as well as one who finds her condition frustrating. Emma Healey has managed to reveal the woman beneath the disease quite well as well as faithfully describing the reasons behind some of the behaviour that suffers of this disease present to the rest of the world.
For all that I found it quite a sad book to read. Perhaps this is because someone close to me is in the early stages of this disease, but maybe because ultimately there is nothing to celebrate, little hope for a happy ending.
I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for providing me with a copy to review prior to the publication date of 5 June 2014.