In Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, we are introduced to a family in crisis. The poignancy and beauty of love give a clear indication of the heart of those inflicted with memory loss or dementia. The person who resides inside seems to only be misplaced and the acting out is not personalized but a reaction to a thought of action within the mind of those so afflicted.
Maude is having a terrible time remembering, yet when she finds a note that her best friend Elizabeth is missing, she is shocked. Even more so when she realizes the handwriting is her own. Elizabeth is her best friend, and when Maude can’t get the answers she is looking for she goes sleuthing on her own. That is a dangerous ploy as she has extreme memory loss. Her daughter Carla is doing what she can to keep her safe, but is alternately frustrated and scared. Her son lives farther away, and he doesn’t see the danger of worries that come from day to day living with their mom.
Twisted in the memories are small bits and pieces of Maude’s past, and the disappearance of her beloved sister Sukey just after World War II. As her memories ebb and flow, the two disappearances keep connecting in strange and mysterious ways. As Maude tries to make her daughter understand, she continues to muddle the message, creating confusion for both. She has gone to the police, and while she does not remember, they certainly do. She has been many times reporting a missing person, and they begin to be concerned for Maude’s welfare as well. With the pressure from her daughter and the police she tries to dredge up her concerns, yet everything comes back to Elizabeth being missing. Or is that Sukey? They keep getting twisted up in her memories. The notes she keep finding are more disconcerting, yet she knows from the handwriting that she is the one writing the clues. But she forgets how to decipher them.
Can she pull her memories to the surface to save her friend, or is she just having a crisis as her daughter and the police suspect? And why does Sukey continue to dwell within that field of concern?
This is an amazing journey and one that speaks deeply to me as my mother, too, has a form of dementia. The notes were one of her ways of coping and remembering and the acting out is also one of her ploys. The sudden clarity of memory also comes though at times and all is well for a short time, yet it is the past that often holds the power.
You will find yourself charmed and alarmed as Maude makes her way; you will worry about Carla and the missing Elizabeth. Healey creates her characters so real; you expect to read about them in the headlines. You will find the story both sad and exciting, and while cheering the characters on, the love that Maude holds is never lost. To understand her is to love her, and you will find yourself there.
If you enjoy mysteries and small bits of history, you will find this to be the book for you. If you have any family or know of anyone afflicted with memory loss this is a small bit of hope and poignancy.
This is Emma Healey’s first novel and she has come out with a roar. This would be a great read for both a book club and a reading group. There is the possibility of immense amounts of discussion.