Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "Elizabeth is Missing" by Emma Healey

"Elizabeth is Missing" by Emma Healey
First published in 2014
301 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

(image source)

I was instantly intrigued when I first read a blurb for “Elizabeth is Missing,” which basically went like this: Maud, an elderly British woman with Alzheimer’s, has a note in her pocket that reads “Elizabeth is missing” and she will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her friend.

The summaries also use words like “psychological,” “dark” and “mystery” and I figured I was in for a taut, page-turning thriller. But not so fast. The book actually has dual mysteries – Elizabeth’s disappearance in present day, and Maud’s sister Sukey’s disappearance in 1946. And neither mystery is really that shocking or suspenseful. There’s a sort of unexpected twist of fate that ties Maud’s whole story together, but even that didn’t evoke any more of a reaction than, “Huh, that’s interesting.”
However, there’s a whole other part to this novel – one which the author accomplished with far more success. “Elizabeth is Missing” paints a fascinating, heartbreaking, sometimes hard-to-read portrait of what it’s like to live with dementia as well as care for someone suffering from memory loss. It’s painful to watch Maud struggle to think of the word “pencil” or set off on a mission only to forget why she’s at the bus stop five minutes later. And it’s equally heart-wrenching as Maud’s daughter Helen puts on a brave face and is infinitely patient with her mother.
Healey’s writing was pretty darn good and the premise was brilliant, but the execution wasn’t quite there. I actually enjoyed the fact that the central mystery of the novel was Sukey’s vanishing in 1946, rather than Elizabeth's disappearance as the title suggests, and I loved the British post-war atmosphere. But Healey could’ve done a much better job with the mystery – there was really only ever one suspect, and we never completely found out what happened to Sukey. I wanted more suspense, more intrigue, more edge-of-my-seat page-turning.

But “Elizabeth is Missing” was hardly a bad read and I would definitely try another book by Emma Healey (this is her debut). Perhaps if you go into “Elizabeth is Missing” thinking of it as a novel rather than a story of suspense or mystery, you won’t be disappointed like I was.

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