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RMS Book Club: Elizabeth Is Missing

Author: Miranda Eason

Make yourself a cup of tea/pour yourself a glass of wine (delete as applicable, according to what time of day you’re reading), it’s Rock My Style book club time. This month’s book is Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey, Sunday Times bestseller and winner of the Costa First Book Award.

Not had time to read it yet? Our narrator, Maud, is 82 years old and becoming increasingly forgetful. She pops to the shops and can’t remember why she went. So she stocks up on tins of peaches. Again. Much to the annoyance of her daughter Helen, who, sometimes, Maud doesn’t recognise. Maud’s friend Elizabeth may or may not be missing. As the book progresses we learn about another unsolved mystery from Maud’s past…

Lauren and I both read this month’s book. Just as last month we’ll avoid spoilers in the post, but if you’re keen to read the book (and both Lauren and I agree it’s well worth your time and money) it might be best to skip the comments to avoid any major giveaways.

On to the book. Like The Miniaturist I devoured it in a snap. I’m not usually a fan of the unreliable narrator. I like to know where I am with the person telling me their story and, with Maud, we’re in extremely unreliable narrator territory – she can’t remember what she did five minutes ago and her system of notes-to-self isn’t helping – but for once I didn’t mind that we couldn’t be sure whether what she was telling us had happened in the distant past, recently or even at all.

While her grip on the present day is shaky to say the least, her memory of the years just after the war – when her older sister Sukey disappeared – is sharp as a pin. The intervening years are rarely mentioned. I wondered if this was because they weren’t important to the story or whether perhaps it’s common that sufferers of dementia fixate on one particular time in their past.

The author of one review I read said she felt frustrated by Maud as a narrator, but I never did, she couldn’t help how muddled she was becoming after all. I did however feel frustrated with Helen. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t realise what was happening to her mum. Maybe she was in denial and I guess she didn’t spend all day with Maud like we did and presumably, outwardly, Maud was doing a pretty good job of covering up her increasingly muddled mind.

I liked the mixture of the modern setting and the back in the day thread and was thoroughly intrigued by the story of Maud’s missing sister Sukey, her n’er do well husband, the lodger and the mad woman. OK, so it all linked together very neatly in the end, but I’m thinking it took Maud’s descent into dementia to loosen the memories she’d locked away in her brain possibly as a result of the illness she’d had after Sukey disappeared.

In our youth-obsessed culture I liked spending time with someone much older and, having had a grandparent whose personality was all but erased by dementia, I would say this is a very good portrayal of what happens when someone’s brain starts to fail them. It sounds like it could be a depressing read and, while it’s sad at times, it’s funny and intriguing too. A very good choice for our second book club read. Thank you so much for suggesting it Lynn!


As I progressed to the middle of the book I found the storyline around Elizabeth’s whereabouts frustrating (as to me it was fairly obvious what had happened) but this was no doubt a vehicle to get the reader to empathise with Maud’s confusion. I found the parallel storyline around the protagonist’s sister, Sukey much more intriguing and really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two plots as they were weaved through the story. Unfortunately I was disappointed by the final chapter when Maud’s past was resolved in the present day, however I found the epilogue a fitting end to the story. On the whole I found the book hugely touching, compelling and at times heart-breaking, especially as on many occasions I was reminded of some of my own Gran’s behaviour. I thought it was an incredible effort from a debut author to tackle the subject of dementia.

Over to you! What did you think of Elizabeth Is Missing? Share your thoughts (and suggestions for future book club reads) in the comments selection below.

Lots of going-on-our-to-read-list books were suggested last month but we’ve settled on To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, as suggested by Kitty, ahead of the publication of Go Set A Watchman, the long-time-coming follow-up. You can buy it here. Until next month!

Born in Yorkshire. Lives in East London. California girl at heart.

28 thoughts on “RMS Book Club: Elizabeth Is Missing

  1. I finished this book last week. I enjoyed the start, but felt frustrated by the time i got half way. I thought the ending became obvious very early on. I won’t say i didn’t enjoy the book, but i don’t think it’ll stay etched in my mind forever.

    1. Oh dear, it does spoil my enjoyment of a book when the ending is clear from very early on, I wasn’t totally sure and so was intrigued all the way through. Do feel free to suggest possible future reads Kirsty!

  2. I haven’t read this month’s book! I have to confess that I didn’t really check to see what it was about and had it in my mind that it was a crime – but this is why a book club is such a good idea! You’re thoughts have made me want to read it and try something that I wouldn’t have otherwise found on my own.

    I’m dead chuffed you’ve gone with To Kill a Mocking Bird, as I’m already reading it and loving it so far. I never studied it in school and don’t know why I’ve never got round to reading it but I can see why its so well loved! x

    1. I didn’t read it at school either Kitty, but have read it, a long time ago, looking forward to rereading it ahead of the sequel being published! x

  3. I agree. It was perfectly readable but certainly not un-put-downable (yes, that’s a made up word!) and won’t go down as a classic for me. The ending was fairly obvious though I did want to keep reading to have it confirmed.

  4. This book rung all too true with me and I have been looking forward to putting my review into writing. It was a little difficult to follow the narrative at first but anyone who has spent any length of time with a dementia sufferer will know how difficult it is to follow any train of thought for very long. The book was worth sticking with and towards the end when it all becomes clear that Maud had been visiting Elizabeth all along I felt very sorry for her. I like the fact that the two stories that ran alongside each other were tied up at the end and I think the shorter length of this book was just enough. The aspects of humour such as thinking Katy wasn’t pulling her weight as an ’employee’ were perfect to lightened the mood of the book. I also loved Katy and Maud’s relationship.

    My Gran has been suffering with dementia for a number of years and the author gave an insight into this illness in a sympathetic but realistic way and at times it was heartbreaking. Last night my family were all called to the nursing home to say our final goodbyes as Gran is very close to the end. She’s made it through the night and I’ll be going back there shortly. It is a very cruel disease and I hope this book helps raise awareness.

  5. I love To Kill A Mockingbird – so glad to have a reason to read it again!

    Ahhh, I really enjoyed Elizabeth is Missing. I guess the plot was a little obvious but I didn’t notice that as I was thoroughly engrossed in being in Maud’s head and just found it such an eyeopeining insight into her mental health. Just last week my friends dad was telling me of his friend who has no short term memory who leaves himself notes all over the place (and on the days he will call he will call it will be 8 times because he’s just seen the note again telling him to call Ian)… but remembers everything so vividly from the time they grew up together… so I saw the slightly more ‘obvious to uncover Elizabeth mystery’ as totally plausable that she would thread it together and weave it and confuse it with the emotions and unanswereed questions of the Sukey story at such a significant part of her life.
    I just loved Maud. I loved the pace as well. As a dyslexic reader I find my brain often wanders to things like tinned peaches as I try to plough through a page of a new book so maybe because Maud did this for me I was able to stick with her, maybe a little too easily!
    And I loved Helen and totally felt her frustration at time, particularly with her brother for being so far away. I’d like to buy her a big bunch of flowers. Good book!

  6. I finished this book quite quickly as I found it quite engrossing. I work with the elderly so it was good to see things from that perspective and be in Maud’s shoes for a bit. I know that, as per comments above, some found the plot obvious…but we’re supposed to be with Maud the whole time and to her, it isn’t obvious!
    I liked the weaving of the different story lines – Elizabeth and Sukey etc – and thought it was altogether a very well done debut novel!
    I have never read To Kill A Mockingbird so am looking forward to reading a ‘classic’. I’m sure I actually have a copy somewhere I just never got around to!
    So far well chuffed with the Book Club choices 🙂

      1. The mug is Charlotte’s, I’ll ask her where it’s from and reply with the deets when I know!

    1. Happy to hear you’re enjoying book club so far Annie! I very much enjoyed the weaving together of the two story lines too. Do suggest future books if you hear about something you think would be a good read!

  7. I really, really enjoyed this book and like you, devoured it in a snap. I found myself frustrated with Helen at times because she just didn’t seem to be very understanding but then I don’t think she’d completely realised what was going on at the beginning of the book and she seemed to become more sympathetic as time went on. Really enjoyed the flashbacks to the post-war years; the storyline was perfectly intriguing with just the right amount of creepiness (the incident when Sukie ran from the house screaming because the mad woman was there made the hair stand up on the back of my neck!) xxx

    1. You’re right Lucy, I’m sure Helen didn’t realise what was going on with Maud initially, she wasn’t spending nearly as much time with Maud as we were, after all, and she did become more sympathetic as the book progressed. Happy to hear you enjoyed it! xxx

  8. I really enjoyed this book. Maud and her dementia gave a great insight into how it affects the person suffering from it, but also the person caring for that person. I don’t think Helen is unaware of Maud’s condition or her actions, but more unsure how to improve the situation and just muddling along trying to care for her and also get on with day to day life and it hit very close to home for me as my Mum until very recently cared for my Nan and has experienced the same frustrations and struggles. I found it quite sad in parts relating it to my grandparents. Some of you guessed the ending but I have to admit I didn’t! I realised early on what had happened to Elizabeth but I didn’t have a clue about the Sukey mystery and how it would turn out! A good read.

    1. I didn’t guess the ending either Lauren. Glad you enjoyed it even though you found it sad. I think it was good that the issue was addressed and in a book that became a bestseller, as Claire B said, I hope it raises awareness.

  9. Again a book I don’t think I would have chosen myself but I really enjoyed it. I found it easy to read and although I guessed the Elizabeth storyline I found that because I was so caught up in mauds thoughts that I didn’t find the sukey storyline too obvious. Incredibly well written with such a difficult to do well narrator. Loving the book club, means I am reading 2 books a month spurred on by wanting to finish in time. Thanks guys! X

    1. Pleasure Emma. Loving having the push to read a fiction book a month too. Glad you enjoyed this month’s book! X

  10. I didn’t get to read this month’s book as I was already reading another, but just wanted to say that I cannot wait for To Kill a Mockingbird next month – read it at school and it was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Finished my current book today so I can actually read this and refresh my memory ahead of next month!

    1. Yay, happy to hear you’re onboard for To Kill A Mockingbird Jo – looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts in a month’s time!

  11. Enjoyed the book, although I did find it quite sad as well as she was obviously distressed to lose her friend and I can’t imagine how horrific it would be to lose a sister and never find out what happened to her! Despite that, I did enjoy it and felt there was enough lighter moments to balance the darker content

  12. I just finished the book yesterday – a bit of a race to get it finished. I started it very interested in it but then halfway through it was just making feel very sad and anxious – I tend to read at night so not the best feeling just before you go to bed. The repetitiveness of the current day got a bit waring to read but then you have to remind yourself that this is reality for a lot of people.

    I thought it was really sensitively written and a work colleague said that reading the book as made him be more patient with his mother in law who is going through this (the disease not trying to solve a murder!). I too enjoyed the narrative about the past more than the current day.

    I was a bit disappointed by the end but it was really the only way it was going to go.

    Not sure I’ll get round to reading To Kill a Mocking Bird in the next month as I’ve just been given a book called The Bees (have a google) to read and it looks VERY interesting.

  13. I’m really pleased I’ve read this book but I’m not sure I will be recommending it. I thought it was cleverly written & a very brave context for a debut novel but I just didn’t find it gripping enough – this could well be due to reading it on the tube (4changes added to the ‘disjointed confusion of the story) or it could be that I read it straight after Girl on a train, which was devoured in a day on a sun lounger. Very excited to be revisiting a theatre studies fave for next month.

  14. Thank you for choosing this book. I really enjoyed reading it. I liked that it was from the perspective of Maude and I felt it was really authentic how her thoughts jumped. I also had a Gran with dementia and I could relate. This is a book I will definitely recommend to my friends.

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