Elizabeth Is Missing is Emma Healey’s first novel about an older woman suffering from dementia. The story is from Maud’s point of view and gives the audience an idea of what life might be like to have one’s mind slowly deteriorate due to dementia. To help illustrate the point even more, Maud spends most of her time obsessing about the disappearance of her friend, Elizabeth. She finds it extremely difficult to follow the clues when she can’t remember what the clues are or even what they mean when she finds them.
There is very little background information about this book and its author, Emma Healey. Emma Healey finished her master’s in England in 2011 and published her first novel, Elizabeth Is Missing, in 2014. I learned that due to the death and decline of her own grandmothers that Emma was inspired to write about dementia in fiction. When I mentioned this book to others, no one had heard of it, instead everyone referred to the book Still Alice, which was made into a movie last year and starred Julianne Moore. While I have not read the book or seen the movie, I have read that Still Alice is also the first person perspective of someone in a decline due to dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease. Because I enjoyed Elizabeth Is Missing, I might see if I can get my hands on Still Alice as well.
I feel like this book especially appealed to me because my own grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and so I already understood what it was like to be a family member of someone with dementia. What captivated me about this book is that it gave me some insight into what my grandmother might have been feeling. The confusion that becomes second nature to someone with dementia is heart breaking. To think that someone with my mental capacity today could get to the point where someone doesn’t remember what they were doing only five minutes before or even the faces of her own children is frightening. I would like to say that the novel gave me a greater compassion and apathy for people suffering from dementia. The novel also has caused me to ponder what I would do if I were Maud’s daughter, Helen. My first reaction is that Maud is a person who plain and simple needs to be in 24-hour care for her own safety. While at the beginning of the novel, Maud doesn’t seem so badly off, as the story progresses, her dementia progresses and it is apparent that she can no longer be trusted to take care of herself. Through interactions between Maud and her daughter, it is apparent that making the decision to have your mother live in a nursing care facility is neither plain nor simple.
The book did also have a double mystery wrapped inside the story of Maud’s dementia. Maud is missing her friend, Elizabeth, and makes phone calls, visits houses, pesters the son and her own daughter in order to find her. She knows that something bad has happened to her and she is determined to find out what. In the search for Elizabeth, Maud is reminded of the disappearance of her own sister when she was a teenager. As we learn more and more about Maud and the search for Elizabeth continues, we also are transported back to the time when Maud’s sister went missing. This aspect of the story adds a sense of suspense but also gives us the ability to contrast Maud’s current state-of-mind with that of her as a teenager. The mystery of looking for Elizabeth also shows us how Maud’s dementia effects her own search and those around her who must endure the constant questions and nagging. The big disappointment to this novel is that after all of the suspense, the solving of the mysteries is a let down. As a reader, I was waiting and waiting to find out what happened to both Elizabeth and the sister and the reveals made me just think “Oh”, instead of “Oh, wow.”
Aside form the ending being a disappointment, I do recommend this book to friends who enjoy fiction and might like a unique look at dementia and how it affects someone and the people around him or her. The narrator was very skilled in making the voice of teenager Maud and older Maud sound distinct. I could also experience clearly the emotions of Maud, thanks to the narrator. Although not perfect, Elizabeth Is Missing is a good book and makes me want to read other similar books.