Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

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Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

Post by Graham on Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:18 pm

Counter-intuitively the books I prize most highly are the ones quickest to read. Elizabeth is Missing zipped by in a couple of days and is on several counts one of the most impressive novels I have read recently.

It is narrated by Maud, an elderly widow in an advanced state of dementia and convinced that her best and possibly only friend is missing, most likely at the hands of her unlikeable son, Peter. Maud is looked after by daughter Helen, and carer Carla, both of whom wearily dismiss her obsessive enquiries.

To tell such a story via the most unreliable of narrators is a remarkable achievement in itself. But into this Healey weaves another skein. When Maud was a child during WWII her elder sister Sukey disappeared. Maud’s father suspects Sukey’s husband Frank, a black marketeer and all-round dodgy geezer who starts showering not altogether unwanted attention on Maud herself.

If, like me, you are poised in years between elderly parents of Maud’s vintage and an all too imminent decline of your own then this novel may be hard to read. My sympathies were equally divided between Maud and her long-suffering daughter. Only grand-daughter Katy seems able to navigate the circumstances with humour.

Healey nails the distress and confusion of Maud’s condition with appalling accuracy but at the same time reveals a determined and resourceful person who ultimately solves the mysteries that occupy her.

This is another immensely sad book. It won the Costa First Novel award in 2014. Healey’s second novel Whistle in the Dark was published this year. I’m hoping it is a happier read but suspect I will be further traumatised.

Graham
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