Wednesday, October 22, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

I took a break from my challenges and Netgalley commitments, even from historical fiction, to read something a little different–another book recommended by my library’s new fiction newsletter.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is a little bit contemporary family drama, a little bit detective story, and altogether a wonderful read.

If you are intrigued by stories with unreliable narrators, you can’t get much more unreliable than this protagonist. Maud is suffering from dementia, which progresses along with the plot. It is poignant and painful to realize that she is slowly losing the ability to recognize her devoted daughter Helen, and she is aware that she’s losing even this. Time is running out for Maud. She has a mystery to solve. Her dearest friend is missing.

Maud is fixated on the fact that her friend Elizabeth is missing, and no one else seems concerned. She goes through her days trying to marshal her remaining faculties to look for Elizabeth, but more often than not, she ends up lost and confused. Has she done this before?

As she stumbles through her disjointed days, she stirs up old memories, and these, although fragmented, are more vivid and intact than her recent ones. When she retreats fifty or more years into the past, she recalls the aftermath of the disappearance of her older sister, Sukie. Maud and Sukie had been close despite the age difference. But Sukie married and moved out. There was a boarder, Doug, who lived with Maud’s family who seemed a bit obsessed with Sukie. And there was Sukie’s husband, Frank. Everyone thought the world of Frank. But Maud had seen another side of him. And he drank.

One day Sukie disappeared. She was never found.

And now, Maud is certain that Elizabeth is missing.

It’s a unique idea to use a woman whose memory is so faulty as a detective to solve a case more than a half-century old. The story is fascinating, the characters compelling. Healey does a particularly wonderful job of bringing the daughter, Helen, to life. We see her only through Maud’s eyes, and yet she is a fully developed character–compassionate, loving, exasperated, and patient.

Most mysteries are not heart-warming, but this book is. It isn’t a happy book, but it is a satisfying one.