BY JASMIN NAHAR
Maud is an elderly woman who appears to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. She can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right; she’s certain her friend Elizabeth is missing, but nobody seems to take her concerns seriously. What follows is Maud’s pursuit to find out just what has happened to her. However as we follow Maud while she looks for her friend, a separate, mystery runs parallel, triggered by Maud finding an old compact mirror in the dirt; what happened to Maud’s older sister Sukey, who disappeared without a trace around 70 years ago, never to be seen again? And why was Sukey’s mirror found in someone’s garden, all these years later?
‘Elizabeth Is Missing’ is a bold move from author Emma Healey, especially considering it’s a debut novel. Maud’s dementia, as she forgets where she is, struggles to find the right words and misplaces names and faces, is reflected in the narration; Healey pulls it off with panache and it’s thoroughly convincing. Healey’s writing makes the reader feel an overwhelming empathy towards Maud and the frustration that must come with her memory problems. However it does become frustrating for the reader, as Maud’s second-guessing and confusion delays us in finding out the answers to the many questions this story creates.
The chapters switch between the two mysteries: Maud in the present and Maud as a young girl. In the present day, Maud is largely isolated and housebound with the exception of her daughter, granddaughter and carer. When she does go out, it seems to end unfortunately; one particularly heart-breaking moment is when Maud walks into a charity shop only to be told she no longer works there and evidently hasn’t for a while.
The past is set in a post-war period, focusing on the build up to, and aftermath, of Sukey’s disappearance. The latter mystery, possibly because it’s written so vividly in comparison to the muddled nature of the present-day narration, is certainly the most enthralling; the suspects and explanations for Sukey’s disappearance leave you speculating until the last few pages.
Disappointingly, the ending doesn’t do the rest of this beautifully crafted novel justice. After pulling the reader along for the duration of the book, the resolution seems to be tied up all too quickly. One mystery has a fairly unremarkable answer and the other has one that is too vague and raises even more questions. This book warrants a second reading, or at least a fervent flip through the pages again to search for the clues and references you realise you missed the first time round. These flaws are a minor gripe, as ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ provides a brilliant journey through the perspective of an elderly woman who has clearly had to keep things bottled up for a long time. All in all, it makes for an absolutely staggering debut of a book that manages to be both remarkably poignant and near impossible to put down.