This is a novel I keep hearing people talk about. It’s a mix of crime thriller and complex psychological literary experiment – a strange combination that works. Our narrator is Maud, an eighty-two year old woman with dementia, who realises she hasn’t seen her friend Elizabeth for quite some time. Still haunted by the disappearance of her sister almost seventy years ago, Maud latches onto the apparent disappearance of her friend. The novel then gives us an interweaving narrative both of Maud at eighty-two and of Maud at sixteen or so (I presume) when her sister disappeared.
With the exception of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen (which I reviewed a few weeks ago), Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is probably the most moving thing I’ve read in the last year. Healey narrates Maud’s dementia and increasing forgetfulness in a really tender and touching way. They are some brilliant details. Whether from films and real life we’re very used to the image of an elderly person not quite recognising their relations, their own children, or maybe forgetting where they live – but it’s the internal details I found particularly moving. There are moments when Maud forgets the words for certain objects. In her mind and narration a bath is not a ‘bath’ but a ‘cooking pot for humans’; cigarettes become ‘the things you light up’, and umbrellas are ‘shield’s from the rain. It’s makes the prose more authentic, and the story more poignant.