Maude is an 82 year old woman who is convinced her friend Elizabeth is missing (hence the title!). Although Maude lives on her own and is relatively physically fit for her age, she is suffering from dementia and the whereabouts of Elizabeth turns into quite an obsession for Maude. She narrates the story of her struggle to find her friend, and there are time slips which take the reader back to Maude’s childhood, which gives an interesting insight into post-world war 2 Britain and the effect it had on the nation.
Elizabeth is Missing is the first I’ve read where the protagonist/ narrator is suffering from dementia. It’s quite unique in this way, and gives the whole story a quite dreamlike, unsettling feel as you’re never quite sure if Maude is telling the truth or is unwittingly relaying a lie to readers. You really get a feel for what life must be like for people with dementia but the book doesn’t force it on you all the time – you are always aware that Maude has this illness but there are a lot of witty, heartwarming parts to the story that stops it being too depressing. However, I did feel really sorry for Maude throughout and there were parts that did make me feel really emotional as the reader tries to keep up with her jumbled mine and the confusing outside world.
“An ancient noise, like a fox bark, makes an attempt at the edges of my brain”
The story was also really effective at highlighting how hard the illness is on family members; although Maude’s daughter Helen gets frustrated and upset with her mother, you could see and imagine her frustration even though she loves her mum. It must be incredibly hard to deal with and I felt a lot of sympathy for her as well as Maude.
We soon realise that Maude seems to be confusing her friend’s alleged disappearance with that of her sister, who disappeared into thin air when Elizabeth was only 12. Things are all so confusing for her that she, and we as the reader, are not sure which facts relate to which story. This added some mystery which I really enjoyed and which was effectively the foundation for the novel. This is what really drew me in – I really enjoy anything with a touch of mystery!
I read Elizabeth is Missing in 2 sittings and really enjoyed it! I know this novel has had so much publicity as publishers were locked in a bidding war to have the rights to the story, and as Emma Healey’s first novel it is amazing how well it has done, but I wanted to see whether the book truly lives up to all the hype and I feel that really does!
It’s not a very long novel but it packs a punch nonetheless. Definitely recommended.