Elizabeth Is Missing – 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, who 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 than 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?
Review: This book destroyed me in the best possible way. It’s narrated by an elderly woman who is losing her memory. There are people in my family who have dementia, and that disease is freakin’ terrifying. I never want it to happen to me. Nope, nope, nope. This novel shows dementia in all its awfulness.
The story is narrated by Maud, who has lost her short-term memory, but still remembers her childhood in the years after WWII. She remembers that her sister Sukey left her house one day and never came home. Now Maud is worried that the same thing has happened to her best friend Elizabeth. She can’t remember the last time she saw Elizabeth. Her daughter and Elizabeth’s son keep telling her that her friend is safe, but Maud doesn’t believe them. She’s convinced that Elizabeth is missing, and she’s the only one who can find her.
I feel so bad for all the characters. Maud thinks nobody takes her seriously because she’s losing her memory. Maud’s daughter, Helen, is struggling to be a good caretaker. It’s hard because Maud is not an easy person to care for. She’s so obsessed with Elizabeth being missing that she tends to wander around the neighborhood and create havoc. She has an affinity for digging up the neighbors’ gardens and breaking into homes. Her loyalty to Elizabeth is very sweet, though. Nothing will stop Maud from finding her friend.
“But it’s not true. I forget things—I know that—but I’m not mad. Not yet. And I’m sick of being treated as if I am. I’m tired of the sympathetic smiles and the little pats people give you when you get things confused, and I’m bloody fed up with everyone deferring to Helen rather than listening to what I have to say.” – Elizabeth is Missing
“I feel rather drab and shy for a few minutes. But then I remember that I am old and nobody is looking at me.” – Elizabeth is Missing
I was kind of stunned to learn that this is the author’s debut. It’s so well-written. Since the narrator is losing her memory, the story could have been confusing, but it’s not confusing at all. I’m impressed. Either the author is a superhero, or this book was incredibly difficult to write.
In this novel, you get two mysteries for the price of one. Elizabeth is missing, and Maud’s older sister is also missing. I knew that the two mysteries were linked, but the author kept me guessing about how they were linked until the very end. I kept changing my mind about if Elizabeth was really missing. Maud isn’t a reliable narrator, so I questioned everything she said. Has something bad happened to Elizabeth, or did Maud just forget where Elizabeth went? It’s a compelling mystery.
“I remember when the houses used to whiz by as I walked—nearly running—to and from home. Ma would ask me afterwards about what I’d seen, whether certain neighbours were out, what I thought about someone’s new garden wall. I’d never noticed; it had all gone past in a flash. Now I have plenty of time to look at everything, and no one to tell what I’ve seen.” – Elizabeth is Missing
It’s hard to come up with complaints about this novel, but I do have two. First, the book could have been shorter. I basically inhaled the beginning and the end, but my attention started to wander in the middle. I felt like we weren’t making much progress on either mystery. Luckily, the book has a satisfying conclusion.
Second, I questioned why Maud’s daughter couldn’t have been clearer about where Elizabeth was. I know that would’ve ruined the mystery, and then the book would be pointless, but Helen is pretty sure she knows what happened to Elizabeth. Why couldn’t she write the answer on a giant sign and stick it on Maud’s wall or something? That’s what I would’ve done. That’s what Helen did when Maud kept burning toast. Why can’t she put the “Where’s Elizabeth” sign next to the “No more toast” sign?
Those are fairly minor complaints. I really like this book. It’s one of those stories that teach you not to take your memory for granted. You never know how long you’ll have it.
TL;DR: Excellent mystery with unusual characters. I’ll happily read whatever the author writes next.