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Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey


Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey was published last spring when I had just returned from a visit to my elderly mother who is beginning to struggle with short-term memory loss. At the time I felt this book might be just a bit to close to home and resisted reading it.

There are a lot of us aging baby boomers in the same boat, concerned about our parents as they begin to need care. Dementia and memory loss has become the topic of many memoirs and novels.

On a recent holiday I’d read through my suitcase full of books and found myself at the Frankfurt airport, before the long flight home, needing to buy a book. The little shop had a reasonable selection but most were either books I’d already read, or books I was not interested in reading. But they had Elizabeth Is Missing in a lovely European paperback edition.  And, it was the perfect choice.

We soon realize that Elizabeth is not the only one missing. Our central character, Maud, is 80ish, still living on her own but beginning to forget more than she remembers about the day’s events. Also missing is Sukey, Maud’s older sister. Sukey has been missing since the end of the Second World War.

Maud was a young teenager at the end of the war, happy at home with her parents, her sister, and their lodger, Douglas. Sukey leaves home to marry Frank Gerrard, who is in the removal business, dealing on the thriving black market for the many food items and other things in short supply in post war England.

When Sukey disappears there seems to be no clue as to whether she chose to vanish or has been murdered by her husband or someone else. That is in the long past. Maud remembers a great deal about the past and these memories weave in and out of the present time in fascinating ways.

In the present time it is Maud’s only friend, Elizabeth, who is missing and Maud is both distressed and bereft. Maud’s daughter Helen and granddaughter Katie come in an out of her home and life on a regular basis – sometimes Maud is completely aware of who they are, sometimes not so much.

Many of us will recognize the situation – aging parents who no longer read, as they cannot keep track of the characters and the plots just don’t make sense anymore. Parents who watch a lot of television – things like Jeopardy. Maud has her lists – writes everything down – but cannot often remember what her notes mean, or why they were important. 

Elizabeth is Missing is not only an insight into the thoughts of a woman rapidly losing her way in the world as it becomes a more and more confusing place – but also a great read.

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