Monday, June 30, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (2014)

Sometimes, after a particularly gruelling or busy time with work, I have an inescapable compulsion to stay in bed and read all day long. No TV, no phones - just the printed word and hot, sugary beverages. However, if I am going to commit to a full day in bed drinking hot chocolate and not raising my heart rate above 90, then it needs to be a good book. Thanks to Simon Savidge's glowing review, I found the perfect one and spent last Saturday immersed in a sad yet lovely tale.

Elizabeth is Missing is told from the perspective of Maud, an elderly woman who has Alzheimers. She lives alone but is looked after by a carer and her daughter, Helen, and is slowly losing her ability to remember. As a mnemonic device, Maud writes notes to herself and these notes, whose meaning is often obscure once removed from the context in which they were written, fill Maud's pockets and are scattered throughout her house. There is one note that is repeated over and over again: Maud's friend Elizabeth is missing and no-one other than her is concerned. Amidst the current-day search of Maud for her friend, the story is intertwined with memories of Maud's childhood during the Second World War. Her sister, Sukey, who Maud adores, vanishes, most likely at the hands of Maud's family's lodger Douglas or Sukey's black marketeer husband Frank. The search for Sukey and Elizabeth drive both temporalities of the narrative.

One of the most effective elements of Elizabeth is Missing is the vastly different voices of the young and old Maud. Similarities in tone and character make it clear that the two are the same person but, while the young Maud's thoughts are crystal clear, the old Maud's are clouded and foggy. The entwining of these two stories and the parallel investigations into the disappearance of two women that Maud loves are done really well. In fact, the whole book is done very well - its exploration of ageing and illness are sad but at the centre of this book is the strength of family and of love. It's excellently written, engaging and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Four and a half stars.

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