Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey tells the story of Maud Horsham, an elderly woman who is searching for her friend Elizabeth. However, Maud is suffering from dementia and she becomes increasingly muddled between the clues leading to Elizabeth’s whereabouts and those related to another unsolved mystery involving Maud’s sister Sukey who disappeared without trace nearly seventy years ago.  

The tag line of ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ is “How do you solve a mystery when you can’t remember the clues?”. A “detective” with dementia is a highly original concept for a novel and it is executed brilliantly. Healey strikes the perfect balance between the humorous elements of Maud’s forgetfulness and the seriousness of her condition. Maud will describe her actions only to forget almost instantly why she is doing something or even where she is. She writes several notes to remind herself of the clues she has discovered but can’t work out what they mean when she finds them again.  Her easily exasperated carers are convinced that there is no mystery as far as Elizabeth’s whereabouts are concerned but Maud is having none of it.

Despite dealing with a difficult subject matter, the story was neither particularly bleak and nor did it trivialise the issues surrounding dementia and the isolation of the elderly.  Maud is an extremely unreliable narrator but not a deliberately manipulative one and Healey’s portrayal of her condition is sensitively and poignantly written.  As the story progresses, Maud often fails to recognise her daughter Helen and granddaughter Katy, but she also has occasional moments of real lucidity. Her disjointed memories come together surprisingly neatly at the end of the story as subtle parallels linking the mystery in the present and the mystery in the past are gradually revealed to the reader.

An unforgettable story about the impact of dementia and memory loss, ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ is one of the best debut novels I’ve read this year so far.  Highly recommended.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

  1. This sounds like a fascinating book. In my reading, and my writing, I adore the unexpected. Are there any other books by this author you can suggest?

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  2. I love discovering new books!! Great review. Will be adding this to my TBR list!! Thanks 🙂

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  3. Carole Besharah

    Everyone is raving about this book. I cannot wait to read it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. Chris Sullivan

    I like your review but I don’t know if I can take another book written from the perspective of someone with an a mental problem or ailment. ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride was for me the final straw.

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    • I had that thing with suffering in books recently, such as the McBride book, and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and it seems a rash of such books.

      I wonder though if “Elizabeth” might be more like “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion? Where the differentness of the narrator’s point of view makes for a different texture of reading experience. I’ll be buying “Elizabeth” when it’s out in paperback to find out.

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      • I wouldn’t say ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ is a feel-good story in the way that ‘The Rosie Project’ is but it isn’t completely grim either despite the subject matter.

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      • Chris Sullivan

        I haven’t read The Rosie Project but did love Burial Rites and it was the novel I hoped would win the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Like you I will buy ‘Elizabeth’ when the paperback is released. I will look out for ‘Rosie ‘ as well. Re-reading this comment one could get the impression I am on the hunt for women. 😉

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    • I assure you that ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ is a lot more accessible to read than ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’! It’s not exactly uplifting but it isn’t all bleak either.

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      • Chris Sullivan

        Ok I will give it a go but if it’s no good I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you. Read that last part with an Irish accent. 😉

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    • It’s definitely not as bleak as ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’.

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      • Chris Sullivan

        I could live with the bleakness but the hackneyed story and stereotypical Irish characters wrapped up in a convoluted style is what made it a less than interesting novel.

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  5. I can’t wait to read this book. It sounds like a really interesting concept and I’ve heard so many good things about it. Great review!

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  6. I can’t wait to read this book! I love the intrigue of a story narrated by characters you can’t quite trust.

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  7. This looks good. I haven’t heard about Elizabeth is Missing. Thanks for the review!

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  8. mushypeasonearth

    Heard a lot about this, really want to read it. Both my grandmas are at various stages of dementia (one just getting a bit dotty, the other very advanced) so I’m interested for the insight.

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  9. This sounds fab! I need to remind myself how many books I already have when I read about books like this.

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  10. Wow! Sounds like an amazing book. Thanks for the review. It just went to the top of my TBR pile 🙂

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  11. Great review! I absolutely loved this book so I’m always so happy to hear when others do too!

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  12. This sounds like something I would love. I’ll have to add it to my list! 🙂

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  13. The idea sounds like a take on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which I really enjoyed.

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  14. Thank you. This is definitely on my list and I had not seen a reader review.

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