One of the big sellers of 2014 and the winner of the Costa First Novel Award this book has been my shelves since then. I really wanted to read it when I bought it but over the time it has been sat there I’ve wondered whether it might be too whimsical, heart-warming or quirky for an old cynic like me and other books have taken precedence.
However, out of the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge box at Sandown Library came “read a novel where the main protagonist is aged over 60”, so a perfect cue to discover what the fuss around this debut was all about.
Main character, Maud, at aged 82 fulfils my brief nicely. She suffers from dementia and when she believes her friend has gone missing she is determined to find out what has happened. Only occasionally lucid, she has to rely on her hand-written notes but her investigation strategies are continually forced backwards by her confusion and the symptoms of this cruel disease.
The past also intervenes as her friend Elizabeth’s predicament becomes aligned in Maud’s brain with the disappearance of her older sister Sukey just after the war, a mystery Maud has never been able to come to terms with. Flashbacks triggered by the present events seem to bring these days back with greater clarity.
It is the Dementia aspect, of course, which gives this gentle mystery its unusual slant just as an earlier best seller “The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time” (2003) by Mark Haddon created something similar with his young, probably autistic detective. That condition was never really made clear in that book and so it felt more subtle than what we have here although there is little doubt that if you loved that book then this is an obviously worthy recommendation.
I actually had my reservations about Haddon’s novel and I didn’t find myself totally buying into this either. I found it to be all a little too much on one level and as well as being frustrated for Elizabeth I found myself becoming frustrated as a reader as I wanted the novel to move on more than it did. The “mystery” aspect did not work as well as I expected it to, however, the human aspect of living with dementia and the toll this takes on the family works better, but I’m not really sure that I wanted to read this type of book at this present time. The dementia and mystery elements did not integrate as seamlessly as I thought they would.
I know I’m in a minority here as this book has been so highly praised for both of these elements and I know it is the subject matter that largely dictates my reservations. If it feels samey it is because Maud’s world is samey and continually challenging. I did enjoy it but not as much as I was expecting to.
Emma Healey’s second novel “Whistle In The Dark” has been published this month (May 2018) and the initial reviews are just as promising. I would certainly be interested in reading this as there is no doubt that it seems to confirm her status as a writer who takes a unique slant towards the crime/mystery genre.
Elizabeth Is Missing was published by Viking in 2014. I read the Penguin paperback edition.