Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dementia is my greatest fear. To gradually lose your mind, for your memories to become disjointed and your ability to communicate to deteriorate, as you become a completely different person to those who know and love you, and to yourself - I can't imagine how frightening that must be.

Healey does well to put across the deterioration of the mind of Maud, in her 80s and concerned about the whereabouts of her friend Elizabeth. Her continuing concern - Elizabeth is Missing is written on little notes stuffed in pockets, her bag and around the house - is not just for Elizabeth but for the solution to a mystery that dates back almost 70 years.

The clues to the latter are woven into Maud's increasingly random comments and questions, as she fails to recognise her daughter and granddaughter. I worked out the solution to the mysteries fairly early on, but that did not stop me wanting to read on. I was interested in how Healey could present the solution without betraying her characters - she managed it.

Healey manages it because she writes so well. The prose flows, unlike Maud's jerky and repetitive mind, and I read this book in less than a day as the words swept me along. Ordinarily, I am frustrated by people who repeat themselves - I'm well known for sighing like Maud's daughter Helen as a story is retold for the umpteenth time - but this was one unreliable narrator I didn't want to turn away from.

Healey portrays Maud with dignity, showing Maud's own frustration at not being able to remember simple words, not just the frustration of those around her. The end is particularly poignant and saddening, a reminder that whilst old mysteries can be solved, there is no turning back from this awful illness.

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