Review: Elizabeth is Missing; Emma Healey

Poignant and powerful (4.5 stars) 

Source- review copy

Published by Penguin UK. Due for release in June 2014.

I read the Kindle version. The hardback edition is 284 pages. 

This book sounded like it would be an amazing, riveting read and I am so happy to say that it didn’t disappoint, when I picked it up absolutely months ago, now. Emma Healey has crafted a beautifully told story with an unforgettable narrator; I was genuinely unable to put this novel down and read it in one pleasurable sitting. 

Maud is getting forgetful, she has to write notes to remind herself to do the most basic of things, but the one thing she is certain of is that her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so, as well as the one handwritten on her wall that reminds her of that fact every single day. Maud is absolutely determined to find Elizabeth, as well as try to figure out what her friend’s disappearance might have to do with that of her sister, who vanished decades ago, just after the war… 

This was a crime novel-cum mystery and was a perfectly paced, engrossing story. It has some whodunit elements and a real heart and had me hooked throughout. Characters are brilliantly done, even the secondary ones, the writing flows beautifully with an excellent dual-time narrative and the scene-setting is very atmospheric. 

Aside from the mystery of what has actually happened to Elizabeth, which takes up a great chunk of the storyline with lots of little red herrings dropped for the readers, there is also a second mystery in the fact that Maud’s older sister Sukey, disappeared years previously when Maud was a young girl. This second storyline interweaves with that of Elizabeth’s disappearance remarkably well here; there is a sense of confusion felt by Maud, especially given her mental state, as facts become clouded and the facets of one disappearance overlap those of the other and clues become entangled. It never became distracting however. I merely experienced the sense of frustration that Maud herself felt, in wanting to know what had happened to both her sister and her friend, and of course there is a question in exactly how reliable Maud herself is as a narrator in this instance. 

The storyline is very poignant in places; I found myself near to tears when Maud was unable to recognise her own daughter. After experiencing my fiancé’s own grandmother suffering from dementia, that part of the storyline really resonated with me. It must be incredibly frightening to lose your memory and not recognise your loved ones and the book really gives a great insight into just how debilitating and isolating it can be- it feels well-researched and real. Maud loses her sense of dignity and becomes fearful at the unknown and what she experiences as part of her day to day life, she is unable to express herself correctly and what she needs or wants. Not being able to clearly articulate even your most basic of needs must be upsetting for all those concerned. 

There was a continual sense of frustration and helplessness on the part of Maud’s daughter in having to deal with her mother’s condition and constantly repeat herself and explain things to her mum, whereas the way other people treated Maud was actually in quite an impatient, annoyed manner as they didn’t understand her condition and what she was experiencing. It was a realistic portrayal of how people treat the elderly in today’s society- with a real lack of patience and sympathy in a lot of instances and was sadly all too accurate. The relationship between Maud and her daughter though, was wonderfully drawn. She loves her mother and is determined to be there for her, though Maud doesn’t always recognise her love and care for what it is. I felt however that Maud’s granddaughter was a bit of a weak character: she admittedly loves her grandmother and is presumably the only person to treat her ‘normally’ though she seemed a bit one-dimensional on occasion. 

In all honesty, there weren’t too many surprises when it was revealed what had happened to both Elizabeth and Sukey, but the book wasn’t just about that, it was also about Maud herself- a completely unforgettable narrator, and the journey undertaken by her during the course of the story. After everything that had happened throughout, my heart just about broke at the final few lines of this story, though it felt incredibly fitting. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone looking for a piece of well-written contemporary fiction, particularly those who are fans of Lisa Genova’s novel ‘Still Alice’ and I will definitely be reading what Emma Healey comes up with next.

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