Book Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

I first saw Elizabeth is Missing floating about on Goodreads, as a lot of people I follow on there were reading it at the time. So I read the synopsis and fell in love with it. And I happened to come across a paperback edition in a charity shop, so it was obvious to me to purchase it. 
Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognisable – or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it. 

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud…

It actually took me a good few months to sit down and begin, as I was, at the time, doing a Harry Potter readathon before The Cursed Child came out. Then an opportunity arose to read the book by partaking in a readathon challenge over on Twitter.

When I re-read the blurb I assumed it was going to be a funny but occasionally sad, lighthearted comical tale of an elderly lady going about doing mischievous things in order to solve a mystery she keeps on forgetting.

It’s far from being comical.

It touched and pulled at my heartstrings within the first couple of chapters, and I soon learned that this was deeper, more emotional and more thought-provoking than I had anticipated. The book hits you with how the elderly can be so vulnerable, fragile, and how unpredictable and damaged the mind can become. It’s like an in-depth realisation of what old people can go through, and it makes you feel hopeless and ignorant. It also puts things into colossal perspective that, as young as we are for a very long time, nothing will prepare you for what may happen in the future to yourself or your older relatives. It’s scary knowing that memory loss can happen. And not just memory loss such as walking into one room and forgetting what you went in there for. I’m talking about it being continually severe, and how the simplest of things, even the name of an every day object can be forgotten. This happens. And it’s terrifying.

The main character, Maud, is one that you feel as though you’d love as if she was your own relative. She’s funny, innocently observant and real. My heart contracted painfully whenever Maud found herself in a pickle, or in turmoil with herself or when people were simply ignoring her when she was being indirectly annoying.

She constantly forgets what she is doing, or forgets a conversation that she and another person was having, and you can see how frustrating it is for both parties. Frustrating for Maud because she’s lost, and often doesn’t know it, and also for others who have to repeat themselves daily – hourly, even within minutes. And it’s written in such a way that Maud assumes she’s done a particular task only once when, in reality, she has done it a hundred times before. It’s incredibly sad and enlightening throughout the entire book.

When family members in Maud’s life are exasperated from continual repetitiveness, she, Maud, doesn’t know why they’re like that, due to not remembering what went on moments before. Maud describes the way family members, carers, neighbours are towards her. She tells us when they heavily sigh or swear, and she senses hostility when someone speaks to her. Unbeknownst to Maud, this is through exhaustion of repeating themselves. And it begged the question: would I become frustrated too? Would I become impatient with a loved one whose memory was damaged? Would I be tempted to relocate them to a retirement home to be relieved of this burden?

I cannot emphasise how emotionally knowledgable this book is because, unless you’ve been through something similar, you have no idea what the person with the failing memory is going through, nor of the ones who are in that person’s life. This book is such an educational, heart-wrenching story, and one that I urge anyone to read.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

  1. When I bought this book, I had no idea what it was about. Once I found out, I was surprised, even more so that I liked it, as it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d usually read. It was touching, even brought a tear to my eye as it reminded me of my grandparents. Great book.

    Liked by 1 person

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