Saturday, 31 January 2015

'I walked through the valley of the wilderness in time...'

Review: Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

This is a book that I was really excited for. I'd heard of it because of the awards it had won (most notably the 2014 Costa First Novel Award) and because it's on a big push in Waterstones, so I've seen piles of it every time I go in. I've picked it up repeatedly, and the reviews on the cover are positively glowing. Also, the subject matter: how often do you see a book written about dementia, from the perspective of a dementia patient? 

Elizabeth Is Missing follows 82 year old Maud, who is very forgetful, so much so that she often goes out and forgets where she is going, or wreaks damage upon her house. And Maud has an obsession: she believes that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She relentlessly follows this through, making notes for herself and leaving them in her pockets, going to Elizabeth's house, asking about Elizabeth at places they used to go together. 

In this novel I loved Maud's perspective: she is a fantastic character, warm and funny, and one that you really get on board with. It's heartbreaking when she remembers or does something at one point only to forget about it a few paragraphs later. I think that this aspect of the novel was handled very well; it was a very sensitive portrayal of a woman whose mind was falling apart. 

However I think it's the whole mystery aspect that bothered me; I didn't find that it was needed. Of course, the Elizabeth storyline shows perfectly the slow destruction of Maud's mind, as she searches for her friend who we can't quite figure out is missing or not. However there are a lot of flashback scenes in the book, which for a while are enjoyable, but then, I think become jarring. There are too many mysteries, too many things Maud cannot solve, and too many coincidences. I was interested in the novel for Maud, not the fate of other inconsequential characters. I didn't need that crime element, just an exploration of her mind. 

Overall, this was a good book, but it wasn't as fantastic as the hype around it portrayed it to be. It was very pared back, with a simple writing style. This was effective in portraying Maud's mental state, but for me it just wasn't enough. I wanted to learn more about Maud and not the mysteries surrounding her friends and family. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads, because I did love Maud, and it was an enjoyable read. 

What was it about? The frustrations and sadness of old age. In that, I think the novel is beautiful.
Would I recommend? I would, yes. I've already passed it on to my Mum, who I think is a much less picky and analytical reader than me. 

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