Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

4 stars out of 5

Lost in the beginning stages of dementia, Maude struggles to hold onto her thoughts. One thought in particular keeps her worrying - her friend Elizabeth is missing. No one will listen and no one will help her find Elizabeth. Maude knows that something awful may have happened to her friend and she's determined to find out the truth. Seventy years before, Maude's sister, Susan, went missing as well and Maude never found out her sister's fate. As Maude's dementia progresses, the past and the present begin to mingle in her mind as she tries to unravel dual mysteries.

This is a heartbreaking book. I sympathized with Maude and at times cheered her on, at times felt only pity and occasionally squirmed with discomfort at her shenanigans. Emma Healey presents a brilliant and convincing portrait of advanced dementia, evoking sympathy not only for Maude but for her family and their struggles to take care of her. The language is beautiful with lovely unique descriptions that bring the story to life.

I felt that the story dragged on a bit in the middle and perhaps a third of it could have been edited down or cut. The pacing overall suffered from that mid-book slump and there was a repetitive feel to many chapters. I realize that is largely because Maude, herself, is stuck in a continuous loop, but that could have been conveyed without drawing things out so much. The mystery of what happened to Elizabeth and Susan is an interesting plot device used throughout the story. Unfortunately it's one of the areas that failed for me because in the mystery depart there was no twist offered at all. The answer to both questions was patently obvious from mid-way through the book and there were no real surprises, except the connection between the two mysteries.

In most stories there's a character arc where the main character progresses, in this novel, due to the nature of its protagonist, that's the exact opposite - her character devolves. The ending fit the story and fit Maude's character. I appreciate that, for the most part, Healey didn't feel the need to wrap things up in a pretty little bow. That wouldn't have fit her story or characters. Part of the tragedy of the story is that due to her dementia, though Maude ultimately solves both mysteries, she can't remember that fact. For her there is never any resolution, because there can't be. I applaud Healey for remaining true to her characters and story.

This book is likely to appeal to fans of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Still Alice by Lisa Genova and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It's an adult contemporary novel and you'll find it shelved in the general literature section or with cozy mysteries.

Find it on Goodreads >>

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