[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book.]
You know those books that make you want to drop everything you’re doing and read? Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing was that type of book for me. Once I started, it was impossible to put down and my mind would always wander back to it when I was doing other things (oops!). I loved it so much that I even created an online scavenger hunt/search for Elizabeth! You can play along here.
Elizabeth is Missing is about 82-year-old Maud who is convinced that her best friend Elizabeth is missing. Elizabeth’s son Peter has been acting strange, and Maud doesn’t fully trust him. She also doesn’t understand why her own daughter, Helen, keeps telling her to stop looking for Elizabeth (among other strange requests). What are they hiding? Maud is determined to uncover the truth of Elizabeth’s disappearance, no matter what other people say. The one problem? Maud is extremely forgetful due to her dementia.
This novel is at once a page-turning mystery and a beautiful study of human relationships and memory. I found it really interesting which things Maud could and could not remember. Because of her illness, she forgets even the simplest things, like what she was doing just a minute before or why she is standing inside a police station. But she does remember many things in great detail: things in her past, events that affected her greatly, incidences that shape her into the person that she is. You see, years ago, Maud’s sister Sukey disappeared suddenly. One day she was living at home with her husband Frank, the other she was gone. She didn’t leave any explanation nor were there any helpful clues to where she went. Maud spends much of her life trying to find Sukey, and these experiences become her, in a sense. So even though she can’t remember the small, mundane things, she is able to recall past memories vividly. Will these memories help her find Elizabeth? Can she uncover the truth of Sukey’s disappearance?
Besides the interesting conversation on memory, Healey also does a great job in showing and exploring human relationships. As you can imagine, dementia can be a difficult thing to deal with. I love that readers get to understand multiple perspectives, from the sufferer herself to her primary caretaker. I came to understand and sympathize with almost every character of the book at some point, and I attribute that success to Healey’s rounded writing and characterization. I loved this book and would highly recommend it!
Verdict: A book that I could not pull myself away from. A realistic portrayal of illness and how far we will go to help the ones we love. A book that has a strong character suffering from dementia but doesn’t let that define her.
Read if: You love reading about family relationships and strong bonds between friends, mysteries that will make you want to know more until you’ve finally reached its conclusion, characters you can get to understand and really know, stories that deal with illness but does not make that the book’s sole focus or purpose.
What is one memory you don’t think you’ll ever forget? Will you be checking out Elizabeth is Missing?
Elizabeth is Missing will be published in Canada by Random House Canada on June 10th, 2014.