I’ve never read a novel quite like this. It’s intriguing, mysterious, and its slow pace is less boring than realistic – it reminds you painfully of the memory loss its main character is struggling with. I read this novel a month ago, and when recommending it in a bookstore today, I realised that I actually hadn’t written my review yet. Thankfully, it’s still pretty fresh in my mind, so read on for the review!
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?
This novel is about an elderly woman and her struggle to find answers to a question that nobody will seem to listen to. Her friend, Elizabeth, is missing. She can’t find her anywhere, and she knows something is wrong, but can’t remember what it is. Her search is made a little bit more difficult by the fact that she is losing her memory, but some things are coming back to her – over fifty years after they happened. They may not help her find Elizabeth, but her search for her best friend may help her understand a mystery that should have been solved decades ago.
Maud is a lovely bundle of a character. I want to hug her, I want to sit and drink tea with her, and most of all I want to help her. When you’re picking up things that she observes but later doesn’t remember it takes a little less time to figure out what happened to Elizabeth than it does for Maud herself. At times this can be a little bit annoying, but I think in quite an intentional way. The frustration you feel really does emulate the frustrations you can feel when in this situation in real life – when your brain forms connections between memories that a loved one simply cannot, you do have to be patient and try and understand, no matter how hard this is. On top of this all is a really charming sense of humour that had me laughing, Maud is hilarious.
I can’t lie, as well as laugh this novel made me cry, it really struck a chord with me. From a young age I watched my grandma struggle with Alzheimer’s for years until the day she died, and my nan is currently beginning to show signs of having to live with dementia. Not only did it remind me of all of the horrible things my grandma went through, it also highlighted what my nan might currently be feeling. It gives an insight into the way the minds of people with dementia may actually work, in a painful but illuminating way.
I think what’s important is that this really important message doesn’t have to make up for any terrible story-line or lack of plot. There is plenty to find interesting and compelling in this book. There are, essentially, two mysteries that are solved by the end of Elizabeth Is Missing. They just take a while to come about, and it’s more the journey towards those realisations that is the most enjoyable part. It’s one of the slowest-paced mystery novels I’ve ever encountered, yet it’s written in such an endearing way that it does not take away from how thrilling it can be. What I can tell you is how fast I read it (very) because I was dying to find out what happened next on every single page.
All the feels. That’s pretty much what happened with this novel. It has had really great commercial success and quite rightly – Emma Healey really knows how to make you feel something. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants a quick but meaningful read. I’m currently in two minds about whether or not to suggest my mum reads it, because I think the personal issues may hit her even harder than they did me. Has anyone else read this book? How did it make you feel?
My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 3.75/5.
Publication Date: January 1st 2015.
Follow the author on Twitter: @ECHealey