Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey
‘Elizabeth is missing.’ Maud keeps finding notes in her pockets with this message scrawled on it, but she can’t remember writing it. That said, she can’t remember much these days: the time of day, whether she’s eaten lunch, if her daughter’s come to visit, how much toast she’s eaten. Still, the notes about Elizabeth nag at her. When was the last time she spoke with her best friend? It feels like ages ago…
Frustratingly, no one seems willing to help Maud find her: not the police nor Elizabeth’s son – not even Maud’s own daughter or granddaughter. It’s like they’re hiding something.
Maud resolves to take matters into her own hands, and begins digging for the truth. There are many clues, but unhelpfully, they all seem to point to another unsolved disappearance: that of Maud’s sister Sukey just after the war.
Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance lead Maud to the truth about Elizabeth? As Maud’s mind retreats into the past at a frightening pace, alienating her from her family and carers, vivid memories of what happened over fifty years ago come flooding back to give her quest new momentum.
Strange Companions is a debut novel about a mind in the grips of dementia. Simultaneously a fast-paced mystery and a moving meditation on memory and identity and told through Maud’s unforgettable voice, it humanises a condition most of us find impenetrable and frustrating.
Let’s start by saying this is not the book I expected it to be when I first picked it up. I went into the book without expectations and no real prediction of what was to come. I’m glad to say the story of eighty-two year old Maud was a fascinating insight into the life of someone with dementia while keeping you on your toes with twists and turns.
One of the key things I enjoyed about this book was the vast array of genres it offered. Dipping into comedy and romance while mainly focusing on the drama and mystery of Maud’s sister Sukey, each chapter had me wanting more every time I was forced put it down and get off the bus.
As someone with little experience of dementia, I felt “Elizabeth is Missing” was an extremely vivid way to gain an understanding of the condition myself. As the reader, Healey puts us into the mind of Maud, often repeating herself and getting confused, finding her only solace in a number of messy notes in her coat pockets. Maud cannot find her friend Elizabeth, and despite her investigations and constant questioning, no one seems able to help her find her friend. Understandably her daughter, Helen, becomes frustrated with her mother’s constant repetitiveness, but it is clear to see that Helen is always there for her mother, particularly in the book’s ending, despite what Maud may think herself.
True of many elderly people I have spoken to and had the pleasure of knowing, Maud enjoys talking about her past. The story is split into two colliding time frames; Maud is living in present day while recalling memories of her adolescence and the mystery of her missing sister, Sukey. This story had me gripped and interested to learn more. I had a particular interest in the family’s lodger Douglas but felt his character could have been developed a little more. As the book drew to a somewhat emotional close, I found the ending to be thoroughly interesting and just had to keep reading until I reached the end. Without giving away the ending, I was very satisfied and pleased that all loose ends had been tied while retaining the warmth and charm of the realistic characters and relationships throughout.
I’d say one slight downside to this book is it’s length. While the story is relatively short, being only 275 pages, I feel this book may have worked a little better as a short story. I believe that much of Maud’s memories, problems and dilemmas could have become more concise while still retaining their effect.
Overall rating: Highly recommended, I really enjoyed this quick read. Providing a detailed and vivid insight into the mind of an elderly woman with dementia was both interesting and amusing at points which leads me to rate this book 4 stars.