Thursday, 3 December 2015

Elizabeth is missing, by Emma Healey

On my latest visit to my favourite book-store, Cook & Book, I stumbled upon a number of books that grabbed my attention.  One of them was this one, Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healy, primarily because of its back-cover: how would a person with Alzheimer's disease cope with the enormous task of finding a missing person?

It's the author's début novel, and I was impressed for two reasons: I was almost immediately immersed into the protagonist's world and could thus have read it in one go (but I didn't), and because I felt totally at ease wandering between the past and the present...

Maud - what a lovely little woman... She goes on living her life without a care in the world, oblivious to the fact that she's buying too many peaches, that she's making too many cups of tea.

(Helen, the daughter) won't listen, won't take me seriously...I know what she's thinking, that I've lost my marbles... but it's not true. I forget things - I know that - but I'm not mad...

There's only one worry - she can't find her best friend, Elizabeth.  And she knows Elizabeth is missing, because she keeps little notes on her, indicating when she last saw her, when she last passed by Elizabeth's house, who she talked to about Elizabeth.

Almost from the beginning, there is a sense of determination from Maud's side of things.  She's determined to prove everyone wrong about Elizabeth not missing, as she is determined to prove that there's nothing wrong with her.

And while the latter will bring her in clash with her daughter as well as Elizabeth's son, the former will trigger back memories from a crime committed when Maud was young, creating a double-layer crime plot.

Healy does a wonderful job in describing Maud's world from Maud's own perspective - there's nothing pretentious, nothing "fake" in how Maud lives her life.  She jumps from past to present, from a time when she was little and her sister Sukey disappeared and her encounter with her sister's husband Frank back to the present, when she has to move in with her daughter and her encounter with her granddaughter. One single item can trigger this constant travel back and forth and Healy writes about this effortlessly.

The description of Maud's present state of mind and the things she goes through get at some point repetitive - as would be expected in a person with Alzheimer's - but this alternation with the past crime on her sister provides a twist in the plot and saves the day... (sometimes the past is even more interesting than the present).  The book manages thus to remain compelling and enjoyable to read.

After frantically looking for Elizabeth, after moving in with her daughter and perhaps coming to terms with the lack of ability to do things on her own, the end of the story for Maud is somewhat expected - but nonetheless brings the whole story to a proper ending.  No major drama, but a nice little story to read...

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