Thursday, July 31, 2014

Elizabeth Is Missing

Title:  Elizabeth Is Missing
Author:  Emma Healey
Publication Information:  Harper. 2014. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0062309668 / 978-0062309662

Book Source:  I read this book based on its description.

Favorite Quote:  "Nowadays ... the colors seem faded, as if I live in an old photograph."

Fragments of memories. That's all Maud has, as she slowly loses her memory.  Fragments that she holds onto. Fragments that worry her. Fragments that she tries to puzzle through to capture the connections.
  • "I have an idea there was something I had to remember about Elizabeth."
  • "If I were to grow some summer squash ... where would I best plant them."
  • "the mad woman"
  • "Never knowing ... about Sukey"
Maud is an elderly woman living alone. Her daughter lives nearby and cares for her mother. Many of the other people in Maud's life have passed away. Her friend Elizabeth is a constant in her life. Yet, Maud has not seen Elizabeth recently. As far as Maud is concerned, Elizabeth is missing.

Maud tries to figure out what has happened to Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Maud's own mental state prevents her from comprehending and remembering what she has been told about Elizabeth - by her daughter and by Elizabeth's son.

Tied into Elizabeth's "disappearance" are also Maud's fragmented memories of another mystery - another disappearance. The reader learns that Maud's sister Sukey disappeared years ago when Maud was still young. The disappearance was never solved. No answer ever emerged. Through the course of this book and through the fragments of Maud's memories, the mystery is solved. To me, the mystery is just a sideline of this book.

The bigger focus of the book is Maud herself, and the heartache of the process of aging and of losing who you are. The book displays it from Maud's perspective - the inability to remember, the slow deterioration, the feeling that a thought is just beyond your grasp. It also has glimpses of the frustration and despair of Maud's daughter - the piles of food her mother brings home regardless of the piles already at home, the calls to the doctor, the wanderings.

That aspect of the book is a sad story, and unfortunately one often seen in real life. That makes the book much more interesting than the supposed mystery in the book. The fact that the story of loss and  dementia is told in Maud's own voice makes it that much stronger. Because fragments are presented, as a reader, I have the experience of trying to figure out the fragments, to put together the complete picture, and to feel that the piece to bring it all together is missing. On the other hand, this very aspect also makes the book disjointed and difficult to read at times.

The biggest issue with the book is that it really does not have enough substance to be a 300 page book. The scenario starts to repeat itself. Maud gets confused. Maud gets lost. Maud's memories, if found coherently, will solve the mystery of Sukey's disappearance. The loss is real, and the sadness and frustration is real. I just don't need an entire book to feel it. The story is a good one, but it could have been told as a short story or a novella. Parts of the book should have gone missing.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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