Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Review of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (2014, Penguin)

Maud has become forgetful. She makes endless cups of tea that she then doesn’t drink. Sometimes she doesn’t recognize her daughter. She slips out of her house with a purpose to then find she cannot remember why or quite where she is. But she stoically clings on to the fact that Elizabeth is missing. With a pocketful of post-it notes she keeps hunting for her friend, much to consternation of her daughter, amusement of her granddaughter, and ire of Elizabeth’s son. Somehow the disappearance has got muddled with that of her sister, Sukey, just after the war. Then, as now, she ran her own investigation, but never solved the case.

Elizabeth is Missing is a mystery tale involving the disappearance of two women, seventy years apart. In both cases, Maud has sought to solve the cases, the first concerning her sister, Sukey, and the second, her friend Elizabeth. She was too young and naïve to resolve the first, and she is seemingly too forgetful to complete the second. For Elizabeth has dementia and her thoughts slip, slide and vanish. Relying on notes to herself, a fractured memory, and a fierce determination to at least find Elizabeth, she keeps at the task. Healey tells her tale through two parallel threads, where her present day exploits provide triggers for remembering her sister’s disappearance. She does a lovely job of portraying Maud’s condition and its effect on her relationship to her family, all the while spinning out the mysteries, leading to a reasonably well telegraphed conclusion. A quite moving story that is nicely executed.

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