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!