Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

The title of Biggest Book of the Year is one that can be and is thrown around a lot. I read this back in January as many people did and I still stand by what I said when I read it all those months ago: this is the Biggest Book of 2015. It was nominated for the Dylan Thomas and the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction, it won the Costa First Novel Award 2014. It all sounds impressive on paper but all you need to know is you must read it because it’s bloody good.

This is Maud, her memory’s not what it used to be. She likes to buy tinned peaches although a note from her daughter and her carer tell her not to. That’s what Maud’s life consists of, notes telling her what not to do, notes to herself, notes tell her that Elizabeth is missing. It’s a little tough to solve a mystery when you can’t remember the clues. This book is a perfect balance between Maud’s new life of notes and her teenage years growing up in London when her older sister also disappears.

It makes for a more interesting read when the narrator is unreliable. She’s certainly not lying, but she’s doesn’t know what’s true anymore. One minute she’s certain Elizabeth is fine, the next Elizabeth is missing, dead, cruelly neglected by her son. It also compassionately deals with dementia, the blackly comic moments are honest and raw. Maud’s daughter, Helen, shows a control and patience I envy.

It was like nothing I’d read before. It wasn’t like a straight crime novel with the clear cut line between good and evil. It’s not a case of a bad man or woman doing bad things for sinister reasons or a bad childhood. But the story was littered with clues, things with great significance, but as we experience this through Maud, we don’t know what can be trusted. A mystery wrapped in an enigma with the vowels missing, a joke told by someone who doesn’t remember the punchline. It breaks your heart rather than infuriate you. It was a pleasure to be confused by Maud.