‘I didn’t go to the wrong house,’ I say quietly, steadily, the assertion making me feel like a small child. ‘I’m not stupid. Elizabeth is missing.’ I take a shuddering breath in the silence. ‘Why don’t you care? Why won’t anyone do anything?’ I think I’m beginning to shout, but I can’t help it. ‘Anything could have happened to her. Anything. Why will no one do a thing to help find her?’
Written in the voice of Maud, the narration of Elizabeth Is Missing gives a heartrendingly insightful look into the life of those living with dementia/senility. Inevitably frustrating but incredibly intriguing, this novel captures your attention, keeps you guessing and is difficult to put down – so much so that I spent a rainy Saturday curled up on the sofa and read it in a day!
The prologue gives a glimpse into the two mysteries to come, and the state of Maud’s mind when she finds the remains of a compact mirror – which she recognises from 70 years ago – in her friend’s garden. Healey hooks you instantly – what happened 70 years ago, why can’t Maud remember? And what happened to Elizabeth who’s garden the mirror was found in?
I instantly warmed to the character of Maud, almost 90 years old she is notoriously unreliable and prone to repeating herself. I just wanted to comfort and protect her, and help ease her confusion. She spends most of her day pottering around her house, which she’s dissuaded from leaving for her own safety.
‘Have I got enough eggs?’
‘Plenty, so you don’t need to go out today.’
She picks up the carers’ folder, nodding at me, keeping eye contact until I nod back. I feel like I’m at school. There was something in my head a moment ago, a story, but I’ve lost the thread of it now. Once upon a time, is that how it started? Once upon a time in a deep, dark forest, there lived an old, old woman named Maud. I can’t think what the next bit should be.
Maud’s daughter, Helen, and various carers pop in and out of Maud’s world daily, but she struggles to recognise them, never mind remembering when they arrived, how long they’ve been there or whether they’ve visited before. She writes notes to help herself remember but they seem to make matters worse reminding her that she hasn’t seen her friend Elizabeth for a while, and often leave Helen sighing in frustration.
The story jumps between the present day mystery of whether Elizabeth is missing, and Maud’s memories from when her much loved sister, Sukey, went missing in postwar England. But more importantly for me, woven in between these mysteries are the mental and emotional struggles that Maud faces on a daily basis.
I won’t spoil the plot and tell you what happens, you’ll have to read if for yourself, but I will say that I think it’s inevitable that you’ll fall in love with Maud. Have you read Elizabeth Is Missing yet, what did you think?