Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

What was it I came for? The loaded shelves frown down at me as I circle them, and the blue and white linoleum stares up, dirty and cracked. My basket is empty, but i think I’ve been here for a while; Red is watching me. I read for something: it’s heavier than I was expecting and my arm is pulled down suddenly with the weight. It’s a tin of peach slices. That’ll do. I put a few more tins in my basket, tucking it’s handles into the crook of my arm. The thin metal bars grind against my hip on the way to the counter. 

“Are you sure this is what you’re after?” Reg asks. “Only you bought a lot of peach slices when you came in yesterday?”

Healey’s debut novel was not only a Sunday Times bestseller, but won the Costa book prize in 2014, and it is thoroughly deserved. I had seen this around Waterstones a few times on my shopping trips and had read that it was meant to be a wonderful book. So I picked it up a week or two ago, despite my fear of becoming forgetful myself, and today I finally got around to finishing it, 

Written in the first person, we see life through the eyes of Maud with early Alzheimer’s disease and she is determined that her best friend Elizabeth is missing. She has a not in her pocket that tells her so. This was something I felt made this such a deep book to read in so much as I had to keep coming back and forth between paragraphs a few times, rereading certain bits of information, just to make it clear in my head exactly what Maud had noted down for future reference. This also makes her a really unreliable narrator; which I found really refreshing. For Maud there is nothing really that she is 100% sure of. She even debates with herself as to whether Elizabeth is missing or not. 

Another really beautifully done element to this novel is the overlapping stories. Maud’s current life mixes with memories of her childhood after the second world war. We learn about her older sister also went missing and we hear about how as a child they searched for her and the information from that often trickles into her every day life, confusing her ideas about Elizabeth. Sometimes, in fact, I had to re read a page or two to work out what time period I was in, especially nearer the end, as Maud’s state of health declines. 

I think the other characters in this novel are less to be desired. I think my favourite of all of the secondary characters would have to be Katy, her granddaughter. There is a lovely moment of showing the differences between generations of people, where Katy calls Maud “a traitor to her generation” for not liking Vera Lynn. Katy’s mother Helen isn’t a bad character, I just feel like I didn’t get to know much about her. I know that she is particularly frustrated with her mother but other than that there were only brief moments of clarity showing her relationship with Maud and how they had grown up. 

This novel has a little bit of something for everyone I think. There’s not only crime and thriller elements but there are sections which are funny and bits that are sad; although for the first time I didn’t cry reading this contemporary novel. But really I think it shows family bonds and the strength of friendship, although I don’t advocate any of Maud’s actions throughout the book when trying to work out if you’re friends missing; I’d probably just leave that for the police. 

Total pages – 275

Total read time – 6 hours 

Rating /10 – 6

Recommend – Definitely if you have the time, if not leave it for a sunny/rainy/slightly cloudy day


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