Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey – a review

I listened to Elizabeth is Missing on Audible, which in retrospect may not have been the best idea. The narrator, Maude, is suffering from dementia, and listening her repeatedly forget things and ask the same questions over and over again was somewhat catching. Over the last few days I have found myself concentrating extremely hard on small details like tube stops, and forgetting the names of things. This is, of course, a sign of how excellent this novel is.

Elizabeth is MissingThe plot of Elizabeth is Missing is quite sparse – Maude’s friend Elizabeth isn’t at home, and hasn’t called. Maude knows this because she make notes to remind herself that Elizabeth hasn’t called, as she notes everything she thinks might be important. She tries to go and find Elizabeth, but nobody seems to find it concerning that Elizabeth’s missing. Maude can’t remember the present very well at all, but she can remember her childhood from 1946, when her sister Sukey also went missing. Flashbacks to the months after Sukey vanished are interspersed with Maude’s hunt for Elizabeth, and she often gets confused between what she’s remembering and where she is now.

This was an excellent book. Maude is an incredibly well developed character (a lot of the time she reminded me a great deal of my grandma, who holds a number of the same opinions). She is one of the rare characters with whom you have feel incredibly sympathetic, while at the same time feeling frustrated – when she says for the tenth time that she might like a slice of toast when you know she’s not meant to eat so much – she overeats bread because she forgets she isn’t hungry – it is easy to get annoyed at her for something that’s obviously not her fault. Maude is surrounded by people who get annoyed at her for forgetting things, and she forgets why they are annoyed.

I highly recommend this book: it has a firm grasp on the nature of growing old, and of forgetfulness in particular. I also recommend that you either read it all in one day, or in a non-immersive way. While this is a book I feel everyone should read, prolonged exposure may be dangerous to the mind.

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