Elizabeth is Missing

“Then I remember that I am old and nobody is looking at me.”

Most of us prefer not to think about it. But the fact remains, one day we will be old.

London writer Emma Healey bravely addresses the topics of ageing and madness in her debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing.

In her 80s, Maud has dementia. But that won’t stop her striving to solve the mystery of her missing friend Elizabeth. Much to the chagrin of her exasperated daughter Helen, Maud insists that Elizabeth is missing, her half remembered clues fluttering about her on bits of paper. As Maud’s mind declines even further she comes closer to finding her dear friend Elizabeth, but how can she solve the mystery when everyone around her thinks she’s gone mad?

Healey is skilful in her storytelling. From one chapter to the next, Maud forgets where she is or what she is doing and Healey effectively describes the acute fear of forgetting. At times the story is humorous, however there are many sad moments as Maud begins to forget her loved ones.

Though she is unable to remember the present, Maud has a clear memory of her childhood and her sister Sukey’s unsettling disappearance in the 1940s. Maud’s mission to look for Elizabeth is spurred on by memories of Sukey.

In Maud’s search she is brushed off, dismissed, told off, sworn at, and laughed at, representing society’s distinct lack of patience for poor Maud and her plight. Helen for one, Maud’s middle-aged daughter, is frustrated to breaking point by her mother’s repeated phrases and questions. Confused and muddled though she is, Maud can always pick up on emotions from those around her. “Helen sighs. This means I’ve asked before.”

Elizabeth is Missing is compulsive reading and not to be dismissed. It’s a skilfully told psychological mystery which will have readers guessing until the end. If you enjoy reading this, seek out The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane.

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