Elizabeth is Missing is a fantastic book by new author, Emma Healey. Her writing and storytelling caught my attention right away, and I was captivated by this story of a woman who is struggling to hold on to her memories and make sense of them, before they slip away.
At the beginning of the story, Maud is still able to live on her own with the help of caregivers, frequent visits from her daughter, Helen, and many reminder notes taped around her house. As the story moves on, we see her memory and ability to function rapidly decline. But there is one thing she keeps coming back to: Where is her friend Elizabeth? Elizabeth is missing.
There are bits of paper all over the house, lying in piles or stuck up on different surfaces. Scribbled shopping lists and recipes, telephone numbers and appointments, notes about things that have already happened. My paper memory. It’s supposed to stop me forgetting things. But my daughter tells me I lose the notes. I have written that down too. Still, if Elizabeth had called, I’d have a note. I can’t have lost every one. I write things down over and over. They can’t all have dropped off the table and the worktop and the mirror. And then I have this piece of paper tucked into my sleeve: No word from Elizabeth. It has an old date on one side. I have a horrible feeling that something has happened to her. Anything could have.
I suppose she (Helen) must be right. I have no recollection of Saturday, but I have no recollection of not recalling it either. The thought makes me breathe in sharply. These blanks are worrying. More than worrying. How can I not remember last Saturday? I feel the familiar skipping of my heartbeat, the flush of embarrassment, fear.
Even worse, Maud can’t seem to find anyone who will help her. And, the more her memory fails her, the more haunted she feels by her need to find out what has happened to Elizabeth.
Helen sighs again. She’s doing a lot of that lately. She won’t listen, won’t take me seriously, imagines that I want to live in the past. I know what she’s thinking, that I’ve lost my marbles, that Elizabeth is perfectly well at home and I just don’t remember having seen her recently. But it’s not true. I forget things – I know that – but I’m not mad. Not yet. And I’m sick of being treated as if I am. I’m tired of the sympathetic smiles and the little pats people give you when you get things confused, and I’m bloody fed up with everyone deferring to Helen rather than listening to what I have to say.
Maud’s story alternates between the present and the past. When Maud was a girl, her sister Sukey went missing, and no one ever knew what happened to her. The more she puzzles in the present about Elizabeth being missing, the more she is able to remember and piece together the mystery in her past. Her anxious search for Elizabeth leads her to clues about her sister who went missing seventy years ago.
As you read this book, you will be asking yourself: What happened to Sukey? What’s Frank’s story? Why does Douglas seem to be skulking about? Where is Elizabeth? And, how is a woman, who can’t even remember what is going on from one minute to the next, going to figure it all out?
I’m not sure what to do. I can see a light on in the kitchen, but I can’t think how to get there. It all seems so familiar, as if it should call up memories, but I can’t reach them. There’s a layer of other people’s lives on top. I look at the front door, still open. It’s just like mine – the same glass in the windowpanes – and it makes me think I should be getting home, only I’m stranded on this bit of carpet and there’s no way out. I feel in my pockets for notes, but there’s nothing there, just a few threads and emptiness. I’ve no notes at all. The lack makes me feel sick; I’m cut loose and whirling about in the wind. I wring the fabric of my coat, scrunching up and down in panic. And then, inside the ripped lining, I find one small blue square with my writing on it: Where is Elizabeth?
This book could be described as a combination of Still Alice and Before I Go To Sleep. It gives us a glimpse into the world of someone who is struggling to hold on to her memories, combined with an unsolved mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
*Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.