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!

“A Person of Extremes”

I suffer with anxiety and for most of my life, I have been an obsessive planner.  Someone once described me as being a “person of extremes”, which has stuck with me, and lately I’ve been noticing this about myself a lot.  Once I get an idea in my head, I obsess about it until it becomes a reality, at least for a short while, until I begin to obsess about the next thing and the thing after that.

To give an example, over the past few months I have been trying to find a hobby.  However, it seems to be quite difficult for me to have a hobby of any kind without turning into some kind of future career prospect!

I used to love art, which I gave up when I left school.  I didn’t give up for any real reason, other than I got a job, then went to college, so didn’t have much time to do it anymore. Anyway I began to obsess about painting and sketching, and for a while, I began to do it again, after I’d spent a small fortune buying all my materials and equipment.  And for a short while I was REALLY happy.  I even began to think about a career change, and began to look into art courses, so that I could become a designer and then perhaps in future move into design professionally.  I got as far as looking at an Open University prospectus and looking into finance options for beginning a part time course, when, for lack of a better phrase, the novelty wore off and I began to think about the next fad to take over my life.  All that remains from that dream is one (badly) painted canvas hanging in my living room, a half filled sketchbook and my made up company name: The Topsy Turvy Design Company.

Another example would be the time I decided to up-cycle run down furniture from charity shops and car boot sales into desirable items.  I did hours of research on Pinterest and other sites for tips on how to chalk paint and distress furniture.  I read design blogs and magazines, visited DIY shops to get wall paper samples and buy paints.  I bought my first item, came up with several designs and got stuck in. I sanded (until my hands were raw), primed, painted, and used wallpaper to spruce it up.  I never finished it.  I didn’t have any varnish or polish to finish it off – I was going to get some at the weekend but never got round to it.  Still, it looks great from the front… just don’t look too closely as I couldn’t be bothered to sand and paint the back.  I’m just glad I never bought that electric sander I watched on EBay for 2 days, otherwise it’d be sitting unopened under the stairs.  To think, if I’d stuck it out I could have been the proud owner of Victoria’s Custom Furniture Emporium!

You may think this makes for a depressing read, and clearly I hate my life.  But that simply isn’t true.  I have a wonderful fiancé, a beautiful home, and I work for a charity that is very close to my heart.  Yet sometimes I must admit I do feel a bit lost when thinking about my long term life goals.  I love my job, but charity work doesn’t offer long term job security. Also I have this notion that my life must be filled with purpose to matter.  I just haven’t figured out what that purpose should be just yet!

To name a few of purposes I thought my life should have, but have come to realise since that it probably wouldn’t work out:

  • Mother of 10 children (aged 4) – Even then I knew this one was ridiculous as I theorised several would have to sleep in the bath as I couldn’t cater for enough beds.
  • Author and illustrator (aged 6) – I could save money by illustrating my own books
  • Doctor (aged 7) – I figured this probably wouldn’t work aged 10 when I was extremely relieved I was chosen to become a prefect rather than a first aider at primary school!
  • Artist (aged 14-16) – I was sure art was what I wanted to do until I couldn’t do it at college.
  • Solicitor (throughout college and university) – I studied law at university and really enjoyed the subject. I was sure I would become a successful lawyer and work for a commercial firm once I graduated.

Post graduation I decided not to pursue my dream of becoming a solicitor.  A part of me was relieved, as I think deep down I knew that legal practice wouldn’t be the right fit for me.  Looking back I think that law became my obsession at College because art wasn’t available as an option anymore.  I enrolled intending to take art, then the course didn’t run.  I think I latched onto the next best thing, my law class.  That time of my life was not the happiest, there was a lot of turbulence.  I think I clung to the idea of getting out and moving onto better things, through being a lawyer – it would whisk me away to a brighter future. Yet when I finished my degree I was in a better place emotionally, so perhaps I didn’t really need it anymore; I had already achieved the brighter future I had been hoping for.

Being a person of extremes, focussing on one dream with such intensity, then realising I never really wanted it in the first place, has left me feeling confused about what to do with my future.  I’m not expecting I’ll find the solution any time soon – I’m just determined to enjoy finding my way to the right path.

My latest obsession: Writing a blog just for fun about my experiences.  I intend to beat the cycle and make sure that this is not just a short term craze, but something longer term.  I’m not sure what I’ll write about just yet, but I’ll start with my thoughts, feelings and observations and go from there… Enjoy!

I welcome your comments and observations.