Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

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Elizabeth is Missing

Five words from the blurb: forgetful, mystery, friend, missing, note

Elizabeth is Missing is an amusing, but poignant story about Maud, a woman suffering from dementia. The book alternates between Maud’s current life, where she is preoccupied with the whereabouts of her friend Elizabeth; and a second strand which shows what it was like for her growing up shortly after WWII – a period of time in which she is devastated by the disappearance of her sister.

The book gives a frighteningly realistic insight into the mind of a dementia sufferer, but somehow manages to avoid all sentimentality and insult. Some of the stories made me cry with laughter and I recognised many of the situations from interactions with my own grandparents.

I’m terribly thirsty.’
‘No wonder,’ Helen says, turning to leave the room. ‘There was a line of cold cups of tea on the shelf in the hall.’
I say I can’t think how they got there, but I don’t think she hears me, because she’s already disappeared into the kitchen and, anyway, my head is lowered as I’m going through my handbag.

I loved the first half of this book, but unfortunately the sad, repetitive nature of her actions, although completely realistic, began to wear a bit thin and I found myself losing interest. I think the book would have benefited from being slightly shorter.

The dual detective elements of the story were quite clever and I loved the ending, but there was something about it that didn’t quite work. I think it might be the fact that I didn’t connect with Maud’s younger self and so didn’t care whether or not there was a resolution to her story.

Despite the minor problems I really enjoyed reading this book  and I will be recommending it to a wide range of people. I hope it makes readers more tolerant of those with memory problems and I expect to see it on a few prize lists later in the year.

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8 Comments

  1. JC Sutcliffe says:

    Sounds as though it’s quite accomplished for a first novel, especially by such a young author.

    1. Jackie says:

      JC Sutcliffe, Yes, very good for such a young author. I’m sure she’ll do even better things in the future.

  2. A friend of mine recommended this book to me when I was going through a reading slump but I never got around to it. Sounds to me like it could be a perfect summer book, however, so I’ll have to see if I can find myself a copy from the library and will give it a shot!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I’m not convinced it is good for a reading slump, but I think you’ll enjoy it at some point. I look forward to comparing notes!

  3. Violet says:

    It’s interesting that you found the repetition a bit hard going: I think that’s what happens to friends and relatives of people with dementia – when they say and do the same things over and over and over, it is really hard to take.

    I’m glad that people are writing about dementia, because it’s such a huge thing in society and we need to demystify it and talk about it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, Yes, this book is very realistic and fits well with what I’ve experienced from family members with dementia. It is so sad to see people like that, but this book gives the dementia sufferer real respect and hopefully will give other people more understanding of what they’re going through.

  4. tanya says:

    The thing that impressed me the most about this book was that Healey is only 28 years old. I’m going to see her at the Edinburgh Book Fest and I can’t wait to see what she has to say.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tanya, I listened to her give a short reading from this book and she was very good. I’d love to know the story behind why she wrote it – I’m sure you’re in for a treat in Edinburgh!

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