Elizabeth Is Missing – My (First) Attempt at a Book Review!

So far, I’ve only really blogged about my thoughts and feelings, and I wanted to try something new!  Please let me know if I should stick to the day job!

My all-time favourite book has to be Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM).  I first read it at school and was completely captivated by the plot and the characters.  Part of the reason I loved it so much I think was the multi-dimensional plot, with Scout and Jem investigating the Boo Radley mystery; set against the more menacing rape trial against falsely accused Tom Robinson.

I think part of the reason I love that book so much is because the main character is not an adult.  I liked seeing day to day events and the wider politically sensitive issues in the book through the eyes of a child; whether that be the horror of witnessing Walter Cunningham pouring syrup all over his roast dinner, inadvertently preventing a lynching, or failing to understand the racial prejudice and hatred between black and white people at the time.

Funnily enough the book I wanted to review is not TKAM, but it is similar in its narrative style, which I think is why I enjoyed it so much, and it has made it into my pile of books to keep forever rather than donate to charity once I’m done with it.

The book I wanted to review is called Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.  It’s a beautifully written piece about Maud, a widow in her mid-eighties, who (warning spoilers) thinks her friend Elizabeth is missing.  Maud has dementia and the book gives an accurate and heartfelt insight into the mind of someone with this condition.  It struck a chord with me as my Grandad suffered with vascular dementia and some of the behaviours alluded to remind me of my memories of him.  The narrative is great, it doesn’t tell you about her mindset; you are able to work it out for yourself through her thought patterns and the conversations she has with others.

One of the first (and best) illustrative examples is that Maud has a cupboard full to the brim with cans of peaches.  Her daughter and carers have no idea where they are coming from and neither does Maud.  Later we find out that every day she goes to the shop with a list, can’t find or recognise the items, so picks up the first thing she sees on the shelves by the entrance – cans of peaches.

I found myself close to tears a number of times as you end up falling in love with Maud, and thinking about her even whilst not reading the book.  I think it will affect the way I interact with elderly people with dementia.  It helped me visualise the frustration they must go through in day to day life.  It also makes you question your own mortality because you witness the fragility and deterioration of Maud’s mind in old age.

It’s similar to TKAM is because there are two parallel plot lines and a main character not necessarily aware of all that is going on, so you have to piece the bits together for yourself.  The plots seamlessly intertwine at the end, but I won’t give it away as working it out for yourself is half the fun!

Plotline 1 is Maud’s struggle to find her friend Elizabeth, when she has limited capability for transference between long and short term memory, which, at times, genuinely leave you confused about whether to laugh or cry.

Plotline 2 consists of a series of flashbacks to her childhood, when Maud’s sister Sukey went missing and was never found.  They are a series of memories triggered by various every day events, but her confused mind set begins to bleed these memories into the main story line, much to the confusion of everyone around her.

Honestly, this review does not do the book justice.  It is an unforgettable read, and it definitely made me feel closer to my grandad.  Sadly he is no longer with us, but in his last few years he had no idea who I was unless I showed him a picture of me when I was about 5 years old.  Then he knew me instantly.  He’d instantly perk up and offer us all Worthers Originals about 8 times in 10 minutes.  Then we’d sit and chat a bit about our childhood or his – sometimes he would sing old songs or recite French or poetry he’d learned when he was younger, and after a while when we had to leave he’d offer us all a Worthers Original for the road.

I’d love to know if any of you have read this book, or have any other books you’d recommend for me to read!  I’m always looking for new titles!