Honestly, I can’t remember whether I found this in a charity shop or whether my mother gave it to me. I have the lovely red cover edition with the line drawings. It certainly helped me to get past the unusual premise and give the story a chance.
The Inside the Book
Someone keeps leaving cups of tea all over Maud’s house. And for some reason her cupboards are full of tinned peaches. It’s all very strange but she’s struggling to remember. One thing is certain though: her friend Elizabeth is missing and no matter what anyone says, Maud is going to find her.
Maud has dementia, making her a fascinating but terribly unreliable narrator. In the present, her friend Elizabeth is missing (she knows because she went to her house and she wasn’t there so she wrote it down on a piece of paper so that she wouldn’t forget). She’s as obsessed with Elizabeth’s fate as she is with where the marrows are supposed to be planted.
The story revolves around Maud’s search for her friend whilst around her, her family struggle to look after her and to adapt to her changing condition. The narrative jumps backwards and forwards (the memories triggered by events in the present) from Maud’s search for Elizabeth to her own sister’s unsolved disappearance several decades ago.
Emma Healey’s decision to tell the story from Maud’s point of view provides a sad but interesting insight into the mind of a dementia sufferer and their struggle to understand when and where they are. She makes the main character sympathetic but not pitiful and the sometimes confused voice of the narrator makes the mystery all the more gripping as the reader tries to sort through what is memory, what is Maud’s attempt to understand her surroundings, and what is actually happening.
Perhaps most fascinating is the deterioration of Maud’s mind as the novel progresses and the mystery nears its resolution. Having worked with dementia patients in the past, I appreciated that though the narrative voice was realistic, the author was neither pitying nor condescending about Maud’s condition.
It has been a while since I read the book but there is at least implied domestic violence. Throughout there are some scary moments when young Maud meets the crazy old lady that roams their area. There’s also a bizarre scene where she wears her sister’s clothes and perfume and sits in the car and lets her brother-in-law talk to her after Sukey disappears. They just talk but it is strange.
Elizabeth is Missing is a very emotional read, particularly if someone you love is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Although Maud has a cute and dottled form of dementia, there are points where it is distressing to be inside her head.
Potentially Maud, but at the same time I very much feel for her daughter Helen. Douglas (a lodger living with Maud and her parents when her sister disappeared) is also a character that I can sympathise with. He’s loving and faithful and although I wasn’t sure about him at first, I had more and more time for him as the mystery unravelled.
‘I don’t look up. It’s such a little thing—knowing where to put cutlery—but I feel like I’ve failed an important test. A little piece of me is gone.’
‘I feel rather drab and shy for a few minutes. But then I remember that I am old and nobody is looking at me.’
Age Range: Mid teens upwards because although it’s adult fiction, teens will be challenged too.
Rating: 5 out of 5 tins of peaches
If you liked this you might like:
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman for general feel and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak for an unusual narrative voice.