Friday, 13 March 2015

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Maud may have forgotten what you said to her five minutes ago, but she is sure of one thing. Her friend Elizabeth is missing, and she needs to do something about it before it is too late.

The loss of her friend is becoming tangled in Maud’s mind with the tragic disappearance of her sister, almost seventy years ago. Her pockets are full of notes she can’t make sense of, and nobody seems willing to listen. But Maud’s sheer persistence may yet unravel both mysteries and give her, finally, a little peace.

Through Maud's memories of her youth, Healey captures the drab post-war world, when bombed-out houses are slowly being rebuilt, and queuing for a banana is a great event. Men and women are going missing every day, it seems, as hasty wartime marriages are repented at leisure. But young Maud is sure that the truth of her sister’s disappearance is something more terrible. And that thought has remained lodged in her mind, still crystal clear, seventy years on.

There have been several psychological thrillers recently based around narrators with unreliable memories – SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep and Peter May’s Lewis Man come to mind. And many people have written about the experience of living with someone with Alzheimer’s. But I am not sure that anyone has so successfully got inside the head of an Alzheimer’s patient and mapped the terrible disintegration caused by the disease – from vague absent mindedness, through intermittant failure to recognise family members, to an almost total loss of self.

Of course, we can’t really know if this is what it is like for the sufferer. But Healey, inspired apparently by a stray remark by her own grandmother, takes us so deep within Maud’s point of view that her responses seem entirely logical, even while we know she is driving everyone around her mad. The effect is heart-breaking and sobering, whether we put ourselves in Maud’s shoes, or those of her daughter, Helen. It could be a tough book to read if you are close to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s – but an enlightening, compassionate one too.

A book that is at the same time a page-turner and an eye opener. A deserved winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2014.

You’ll enjoy this if you loved: S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, Peter May’s Lewis Man, Al Brookes' The Gift of Looking Closely

Avoid if you dislike: taking an intimate look at the progress of Alzheimer’s

Perfect Accompaniment: A cup of tea and scones with home-made blackberry jam (and a tin of peaches)

Genre: Crime Fiction; Psychological Thriller.

Available from Amazon

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