Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

“But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.” ― Tim O’Brien

What was it I came for? The loaded shelves frown down at me as I circle them, and the blue and white linoleum stares up, dirty and cracked. My basket is empty, but I think I’ve been here for a while; Reg is watching me. I reach for something: it’s heavier that I was expecting and my arm is pulled down suddenly with the weight. It’s a tin of peach slices. That’ll do. I put a few more tins in my basket, tucking its handles into the crook of my arm. The thin metal bars grind against my hip on the way to the counter.

EIM-pb-jacketMaud’s memory is not as sharp as it once was. She forgets to turn the gas off, eats endless amounts of toast, makes cup after cup of tea which line up, cooling on the side board, and has enough sliced peaches to feed an army – but still she buys more.

To help her to remember, Maud has a ‘paper memory’ – countless notes left by her carers, her daughter and herself. Notes fill her house, her pockets, and the gaps in her arm chair, instructions, reminders, recipes and phone numbers spill from every orifice. In Maud’s pocket, amongst the shopping lists and appointment slips is a note in Maud’s own handwriting that reads ‘Elizabeth is missing’. Elizabeth is Maud’s friend; the only friend she has left. She doesn’t remember when she wrote the note, but she knows that something is wrong. If only she could tell someone, if she could just make them understand.

Elizabeth is Missing is probably not what you expect. I asked a friend if she knew what the book as about, she looked at me in confusion and said, or asked, ‘some girl called Elizabeth who goes missing?’ – She couldn’t be further from the truth. This book is so much more than just a mystery.

Fifty years ago Maud’s elder sister went missing. In Maud’s mind lie the secrets to solving this mystery, and they are desperate to get out, but it’s difficult to solve a puzzle when you keep forgetting the clues. Maud can’t remember the relevance of her thoughts – there is definitely something important about planting marrows, but she can’t be sure what. She struggles to express herself, forgets the word she was just about to say, answers a questions asked hours before, and relives conversations from years past. It’s no wonder no one takes her seriously.

In Elizabeth is Missing the clues are slowly teased from Maud’s damaged mind. The reader is tossed between the present day, and fifty years in the past, reliving, day by day, the disappearance of Maud’s sister, before returning to the present to search for her ‘missing’ friend. The present is confusing, muddled and foggy, while the past is pristine and bright.

Maud’s memories: her parents’ house, the yard, the pantry, and the dusty bedroom floors – are all so clear and picture perfect. Emma Healey creates a rich, colourful background for Maud, clearer and crisper than the black and white photos of her past. The second Maud casts her mind back it is as though you are there with her in the kitchen, stirring the supper cooking on the stove and preparing the table; focus and you can hear the tinkling of tea into china cups, and the soft clink of the tea spoon.

Return to the present, and the scene is much more blurry.

In Elizabeth is Missing, Healey has taken a theme something that many people are incredibly uncomfortable with, and expressed it in a way that I have never seen before. Watching a loved-one grow old and lose their capacities is one of the most heart wrenching and terrifying experiences I have ever had, and it was incredible to view this from the other side. Elizabeth is Missing allows the reader to take on the role of the person whose mind is failing, to see the world through their eyes. The effect is unsettling, haunting and somewhat humbling.

Maud is an amazing character, she is funny, cleaver and mischievous, but her story is so incredibly sad. If you are an emotional reader, as I am, this one is likely to induce a few tear-filled episodes. There were also times when I felt so angry on behalf of Maud, I was furious with the people around her, those close to her who, it seemed, would ignore her, dismiss her, and neglect her. But of course, the events are portrayed through Maud’s mind, you do not see the other times. The times she has forgotten. It is difficult to describe the emotional rollercoaster that this book took me on – I laughed, I cried, and, in the end, I closed the book feeling completely overwhelmed.

Elizabeth is Missing is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Despite the games Healey played with my emotions, I loved every second of it. Each individual aspect of the book combines to create something truly unique and stunning. Even now, weeks after having finished the book I feel completely blown away by the sheer brilliance of it.

Would recommend to anyone and everyone, if you only read one book this year make it Elizabeth is Missing.

My hand slipped…

…into my purse, and I got out the money to buy these little beauties.

Room – Emma Donoghue 

ROOM-IITo five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

8bc91d5455e90ab1672faa19ecbe1c59The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

We are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler


Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion … she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister.” As a child, Rosemary never stopped talking. Then, something happened, and Rosemary wrapped herself in silence.

In We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler weaves her most accomplished work to date—a tale of loving but fallible people whose well-intentioned actions lead to heartbreaking consequences.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey


Maud, an ageing grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

How often do you treat yourself to a new book (or four)?