Saturday, June 7, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
HarperCollins: 6/10/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062309662

In this darkly riveting debut novel, a sophisticated psychological mystery, one woman will stop at nothing to find her best friend, who seems to have gone missing. . . . 
Despite Maud's growing anxiety about Elizabeth's welfare, no one takes her concerns seriously—not her frustrated daughter, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth's mercurial son—because Maud suffers from dementia. But even as her memory disintegrates and she becomes increasingly dependent on the trail of handwritten notes she leaves for herself in her pockets and around her house, Maud cannot forget her best friend. Armed with only an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth—no matter what it takes.
As this singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud's rapidly dissolving present, the clues she uncovers lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: that of her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II. As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more than fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud's search for Elizabeth develops a frantic momentum. Whom can she trust? Can she trust herself?
A page-turning novel of suspense, Elizabeth Is Missing also hauntingly reminds us that we are all at the mercy of our memory. Always compelling, often poignant, and at times even blackly witty, this is an absolutely unforgettable novel.

My Thoughts:

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is a very highly recommended novel of psychological suspense from a unique main character's point of view.

Maud Horsham, the elderly main character in Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing is suffering from dementia - and she is suffering. Maud is losing her memory and leaves notes she has written all over her house and in her pockets to remind her of what she knows and what she needs to remember. One fact that is abundantly clear to Maud is that her best friend, Elizabeth, is missing. While Maud tries to discover Elizabeth's whereabouts she must struggle to do so just using notes she's written to herself and what little memory she has left - or can muster together from her notes.

What she does remember, or is ruminating about when she's not worried about Elizabeth, is that her older sister Sukey disappeared seventy years ago. Whether or not Maud remembers who she is, her long suffering daughter, Helen, tries to care for her. Helen must overcome her many frustrations with her mother's befuddled inability to recall the simplest fact or follow the simplest written instructions, for example to not buy any more canned peaches.

The story ingeniously alternates between present day Maud and Maud as a girl. Currently her life is a continuous daily struggle with every little thing, as her memory is unreliable and she has no recollection of things she has already done and is doing again. The present day chapters stand in sharp contrast to the rich, detailed memories Maud has a young girl years ago, when her sister disappeared. 

Because present day Maud is such an unreliable narrator, you must puzzle out what is true, what is real now - and some of that is tied into what Maud remembers from years ago. There are many clues there, but most of them are hidden in Maud's deteriorating, capricious memory. Some of Maud's memories are richly detailed in her mind but once she is called upon to explain, she loses all recollection or ability to explain what she was thinking.

Elizabeth is Missing truly is a riveting, compelling story that will have you completely under its spell as you race to the end, trying to untangle the bewildering clues presented in Maud's memory and her notes. 

Healey does an outstanding job creating a palatable tension as facts are revealed and the past and present seem much darker than anyone realizes. Healey manages to capture what Maud is currently experiencing with her dementia in such a way that it is a totally creditable exploration of what someone with dementia might be struggling with. At the same time she gives us a   notable novel of suspense that gains intrigue because of the narrator's limitations. It's hard to believe that this is Healey's debut novel.

This is a "stuck overnight at the airport book" that will keep you engrossed and focused to the end.

Bravo, Emma Healey: This is a brilliant novel.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

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