Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
Shelved under ‘Mystery’ and ‘Thriller’ and ‘Crime’, carrying a curious title and blurb, this book just doesn’t prepare you for the heart-wrenching pain you feel by the end of the story.
Maud is an octogenarian with dementia. She hasn’t seen her best friend Elizabeth for a while now and is convinced that she has gone missing. Just like her sister Sukey who went missing when Maud was a teenager. Her mind is going so fast that she starts to forget her own daughter but she does all she can to remember that Elizabeth is missing. She has, with her, hundreds of notes she has written to herself. They are like pieces of a giant puzzle. Armed with those, she tries to find Elizabeth because finding her means finding Sukey. Or maybe, it’s the other way around.
The story flits between the present where Elizabeth is missing and the past when Sukey went missing. Apart from Maud trying to hold on to her memories, what really saddened me was how lonely she felt. And the way she misses the little things her husband did like holding her hand while getting on a bus. She was alone on her quest to find Sukey and so she is on her Elizabeth quest.
Between dementia and loneliness, dementia seems more tolerable given that it affects people around more than the patient themselves. Loneliness is just terrible at old-age. But, unfortunately, you are more likely to be alone when you are old than when you are young. I wonder why we are designed that way.
Written from Maud’s point of view, the narration smoothes the jumps in trains of thoughts and memory losses and presents the story the way it happens in Maud’s mind. Which is just brilliant. Because you feel angry when others make fun of her. Because you are impatient when nobody believes her. Because you are pained to see her discover that Elizabeth is missing over and over again.
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