Book Review: Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
by Emma Healey
Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014
Not so long ago, I spent years supporting a family member who progressed through the stages of senile dementia. It was a heartbreaking, fulfilling, patience-testing, rewarding thing to do, and the experience touched me in a deep place. Because of that experience, I hesitated to read Elizabeth Is Missing. Did I really want to go there?
I am glad I did. I flat out admire what Emma Healey does here.
Her main protagonist, Maud, is aging, and her memory loss is progressing. Her short-term memory suffers, but her long-term memories remain mostly intact. Her daughter, Helen, is responsible for her care, with other support workers popping in too.
Healey captures the nuances of aging and memory loss accurately without crossing over into schmaltzy preaching. She moves back and forth between the present (those short-term memory challenges) and the past (the long-term memories) seamlessly. Using clear but subtle clues, she portrays the progression of the memory loss (Maud’s short-term memory issues worsen throughout the book) at exactly the right pace. And always she keeps us reading because we’re wondering, is Elizabeth missing?
We feel such empathy for Maud. We feel equal empathy for Helen, who we know has to be driven mad by the repetitions, the missing pieces, and the wanderings.
Healey pulled at my memories of my experience to just the right extent. I remembered, but I never wanted to turn away from her story.
Now I know you’re wondering: Who is Elizabeth, and is she missing? Right. That’s the other side of this book. It has a mystery, and the solving of it keeps us turning those pages.
Posted on January 21, 2015, in Book Club, Book reviews, Books I borrowed, Fiction, Penguin Group, Random House and tagged A. Knopf Canada, Book Club books, dementia, Emma Healey, memory loss. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.