Monday, June 18, 2018

What I've Been Reading: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

For some reason I haven't been reading as much as I usually do. It's not at all unusual for me to get through five or six novels in a week normally but for a few months I haven't got to the library - or anywhere else much, truth be told. I've been struggling with health issues - just being sociable has seemed too hard for much of the time - and for some reason this affected my desire to read as well.

But a few weeks ago I was looking at various lists of prize winning books and wham I was on and buying up ebooks. My To Be Read list is now bulging with potential goodies and here is a brief review of the first of those I have read recently.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey was the winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2014. I picked it up without knowing anything about it. I hadn't read any reviews and I'm glad I hadn't because while there is much, well earned praise there's also a lot negativity which I don't think it deserves.

Personally I loved it. It's not a comfortable or easy book to read. Maud, the protagonist, has dementia and is convinced her friend, Elizabeth, is missing and that Elizabeth's son has something to do with her disappearance. The trouble is no-one will take her seriously as she tries to find out what has happened. Her dementia has affected her memory so in her search for Elizabeth she does the same thing over and over irritating people. She is patronised by those who should know better and eventually even forgets who her daughter and granddaughter are. There are a lot of questions raised about the treatment of the elderly as we hear Maud's story.

Intertwined with her present day confusion and memory loss but with the perfect clarity of a dementia sufferer Maud remembers all the details of her sister's mysterious disappearance in 1946 when she, Maud, was a schoolgirl. The disappearance of her sister has had long lasting effects and Maud's search for answers to both quests makes for a satisfying read. The author has tackled a difficult subject - the effects of dementia on the sufferer, the family and the way it's dealt with in the community as well as the lack of sympathy with which it is often perceived - skilfully and with compassion. Dementia is a terrible disease with its insidious, incremental theft of the personality of the sufferer and in this novel it is shown in all its cruelty.

When I did read the reviews later I found the mixed responses interesting. For some the end was unsatisfying and they found Maud's confusion, well, confusing but for me it follows the logic of a dementia sufferer. There are never going to be clear cut answers for Maud who is likely to  have forgotten what she finds out in a matter of minutes and to go back to her search for answers. I suspect this book is difficult for some of those who have no experience with dementia to grasp but for those of us who have watched a loved one decline with this disease it rings painfully true. I recommend it highly.

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