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.
20 thoughts on “Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey”
Sometimes those kind of books are the hardest to ‘enjoy’ since they are so close to reality even though well-written. Thanks for sharing Cleo.
Very true and this was a well told story, maybe a little too close to home for me though!
I think I’d find this a difficult one too. Of all the illnesses in life, dementia seems the hardest to cope with, and as you say, there’s not much room for hope in a story that’s dealing with that subject. A great review as always, Cleo – very thoughtful. Thank you. 🙂
Thank you 🙂
For two reasons it must have been an exhausting read:
1. There are two genres fighting for the reader’s attention.
2. Dementia is too close to home.
Thank you for this great review, Cleo.
Thank you Karen. I think this is a good example of a book that I may have viewed differently if my circumstances were different although I did like the fact that even in her confusion Maud was portrayed sympathetically which must have been difficult for the author to get right.
I think it’s interesting how an author was able to take you through the maze of dementia. It is a sad disease. My great aunt had gotten it and she quickly progressed through it. I miss her.
It is a horrible disease but I thought the author did an excellent job of revealing Maud as a person not just an illness. Sorry to hear about your great aunt.
I went straight to your WWW post and checked out this book through the links there. From the official ‘blurb’, I had assumed it to be much more of a mystery / suspense story, so I was quite excited to be adding it to my TBR list.
However, after reading your thoughtful and thought provoking honest review, I have come to the conclusion that this probably isn’t a book I would enjoy any more.
I can sympathise totally with the plight of poor Maud and her family, however it is mucg too sensitive an issue for my taste.
I received an ARC of this one recently and I admit I didn’t read the entire review as I’d like to come back to it once I’ve read my copy. I’ll bookmark your review 🙂
I do exactly the same when I’m about to read a book. It is sometimes easier read a book and write a review without having someone else’s words in your head. I’ll be interested to see what you thought of this one 🙂
I’m reading this book right now and am about 70 pages from finishing it. This is so tough because my grandmother is in the early stages of dementia. I almost put it aside because it’s so tough to know what she’s going through. But at the same time I had hoped it would give me some insight on what she’s going through. Having not finished it yet, I obviously can’t say much about it yet, but I am curious as to where things are going … where is Elizabeth exactly? And what happened to her sister? I think those two questions have really made me stick with reading this one.
I didn’t find it a sad or defeatist ending, though reflecting on it, it was hardly a happy book. I suppose that the reason I didn’t find it so bleak was because the relationship between Maud and her family is strengthened and repaired by the end of the book and her daughter even helps her solve the mystery behind her sister’s disappearance.