We all know the feeling of going into a room and forgetting why we've gone in there. Sometimes I ask someone a question and they answer, but I've forgotten the question I asked in the first place so the answer makes no sense. And I'm sure most of us have left the hob gas on without meaning to, or boiled the kettle only to remember it thirty minutes later so we boil it again.
Thankfully, for most of us, these experiences are sporadic. Not for Maud, however, our protagonist. At about eighty years old, she is living this, hour by hour. The only things that keep her anchored are the notes that she keeps in her pockets, but even some of them confuse her because they may be old and irrelevant. Except for one. Her friend Elizabeth is missing, and despite what anyone tells her she is convinced of that fact and will do anything to find out the truth, no matter how frustrated she makes her carers and daughter, Helen. The trouble is, any time she tries to do something to solve this mystery, she forgets what she's doing as she's doing it, or doesn't remember that she has done something already. This storyline runs parallel to another mystery, this one much older - that of her sister, Sukey, and her mysterious disappearance after the end of the Second World War.
Part mystery, part crime, part thriller, "Elizabeth is Missing" is a confident, dramatic, moving debut from Emma Healey. Wandering through life with Maud is a bit like trying to see everything through frosted glass - you can almost make it out but the uncertainty leaves you with nothing but frustration. It's a sad, haunting portrait of someone living with Dementia, and the worry and stubbornness this can bring, portrayed so well through Maud. Simultaneously scared of being a burden, and cross at being treated like an imbecile, the sheer energy is takes to make it through a day living with this condition is vividly shown. It is structured interestingly, with small details of the older Maud's life evoking old memories, which tell the story of her missing sister, Sukey. Sometimes the memories overlap, so Maud can be talking to an old character in her present.
Eventually the reader comes to know that the real question of the novel is not what happened to Elizabeth, but something altogether darker and more tragic. The ending of the novel gives a good sense of closure while leaving the reader in no doubt of what Maud still has to contend with as life goes on.
"Elizabeth is Missing" is the kind of story that can keep you reading on into the early hours of the morning, and it's astonishing to think that this is the author's first novel. Very highly recommended.