Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
I love a good mystery. I didn’t know this about myself until a couple of years ago. I can’t get enough Agatha Christie, Kate Morton, Jo Nesbo, Gillian Flynn or Camila Lackberg. When I read the synopsis for Elizabeth is Missing, it sounded similar to Before I Go To Sleep which I loved. So I was thrilled to get the chance to read it this week.
Elizabeth is Missing is Emma Healey’s debut novel. In it, we meet Maud, an 80-something year old woman convinced that something has happened to her good friend, Elizabeth. No one will tell her where Elizabeth is so she decides that she will find her. She calls hospitals, care homes, and Elizabeth’s horrible son; she visits Elizabeth’s house, peering in the windows, asking neighbours if they’ve seen anything. The problem is that Maud has trouble remembering things – she suffers from dementia.
The story slips back and forth between Maud’s present-day search for Maud and her search for her missing sister Sukey in 1946.
Here’s the issue with this book: it’s so sad. It’s a beautifully written novel that so accurately captures what it must be like to live with dementia, that it was all I could do not to weep for large sections of the book. Maud just wants to find her friend but she can’t remember how to make a cup of tea, what the names of common objects are, why she’s suddenly in this room. She writes herself notes on little scraps of paper but they aren’t complete and don’t really serve their purpose. Her daughter, Helen, comes in to look after her when she can but you can tell that she’s also incredibly frustrated with the situation: her mom constantly eating toast, leaving multiple cups of unfinished tea out, asking “where’s the best place to plant marrows?” over and over.
It took me a long time to connect with this story. I think because the whole thing just made me so sad. The only thing Maud seems able to remember with any frequency is that her friend is missing. The further you get in the novel, the more obvious it becomes that the search for Elizabeth mirrors the search for Sukey all those years ago.
As a society, we have a tendency to write off old people. Especially those that have health issues, like dementia. I thought that Healey did a beautiful job of writing an older character with dignity, even one that could barely remember her own name. Despite her challenges, Maud is feisty, strives to be independent, and shows an unwavering loyalty to a friend she can’t seem to find.
I wasn’t sure where the whole story was going to end up but the ending was incredibly satisfying. I love when a mystery is neatly tied up and this one tied up nicely. I wish I had spent time with this one on a patio in a patch of sun – I think it would have made for an even more satisfying reading experience.