Emma Healey ISBN: 9780062309662 / ISBN 10: 0062309668
Some months ago, some friends of mine wished to visit a bookstore before going out for dinner. I was attempting to be financially responsible at the time, and promised myself that I wouldn’t buy anything; browsing only for me. I wandered through the new release section, taking random books off shelves, reading the blurbs and putting them back. After 15 minutes however, I realised that I had been wandering around with a book in my arms, as if I were subconsciously planning to take it up to the counter. The concept had intrigued me, but being good I put it back on the shelf.
More recently, I found myself in a bookshop again. I wanted that book. But sadly, I couldn’t remember it’s title or who wrote it. I wandered around aimlessly for a while, hoping it would come back to me. It didn’t. So, I went to the counter and stood waiting to speak to the cashier, who was chatting to another customer. I was about to be that annoying customer who asks for help finding a book I know nothing about. I didn’t have much hope of finding it. While waiting, I stared absentmindedly at a bookshelf… realising after several minutes that I was staring directly at what I wanted. There it was!
The book in question was Elizabeth Is Missing, by Emma Healey. And it turns out that being unable to remember it is somewhat apt. Elizabeth Is Missing tells the story of Maud, an octogenarian whose memory is in decline. Maud goes to the store and buys excessive amounts of canned fruit because she doesn’t know what she went for. She writes notes to try and remember things, but struggles to remember what they mean or whether they are even still relevant. She doesn’t always recognise her daughter, Helen. What she does know is that her friend, Elizabeth, has gone missing.
So Maud sets out to find her friend – not an easy task when you’re unable to remember what progress you may have made towards finding a person – and she begins to draw parallels between Elizabeth’s disappearance and that of her sister, Sukey, seventy years ago. Maud tries to piece together what has happened to Elizabeth, and we try to piece together what happened to Sukey.
Healey’s impressive debut is compelling, and her use of language is quite lovely. Simple sentences in the context of lost memory seemed beautiful to me:
She tries again to speak. I feel as though I’m failing to catch something precious. The words tumble out and hit the floor and are lost.
The angle of a narrator with memory loss is employed skilfully. We feel for Maud, who doesn’t understand why those around her seem so fed up and annoyed, but as some of Maud’s recurring thoughts become repetitive, we feel some of her daughter’s frustration too – we can understand the blunt tone she sometimes uses with her mother.
At just 275 pages long, Elizabeth Is Missing is a thoroughly enjoyable read that won’t suck up too much time. I devoured it rather quickly; needing to know where Elizabeth was, and hoping against hope to find out what Sukey’s fate had been. I stayed up to a ridiculous hour reading it, and despite being exhausted the next day, I was utterly glad that I’d managed to be staring at just the right spot on that bookshelf.