DeeBrief review: Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

Eighty-two-year-old Maud knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, but because Maud is elderly and suffers from dementia, no one takes her seriously.

Elizabeth is Missing

“‘Oh, Maud,’ she calls out as I leave the shop. ‘I asked for coffee and you’ve given me tea!’
I walk back through the park. There’s a plank for sitting on, a long sitting plank, by the bandstand that looks toward Elizabeth’s road, and I have a rest, watching a man top up a compost heap. It’s cold and it looks like rain, but I don’t feel like going home yet.”

– Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

What do you do when no one will believe you on a matter of life and death? Eighty-two-year-old Maud knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, but because Maud is elderly and suffers from dementia, no one takes her seriously. After all, she doesn’t remember that she’s been to the shop to buy tinned peaches twice today, or that the man on the phone is angry because she called him but forgot why. But she does know that Elizabeth is missing, and she must gather her failing memory about her to find out why in Emma Healey’s heartwrenching, humourous debut novel. (I had the chance to see her read from and talk about Elizabeth is Missing at IFOA in June.)

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The Event: Emma Healey, Linda Holeman, and Tom Rachman at IFOA

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“It’s really lovely when a character comes into you.”
– Linda Holeman, June 24th, 2014

Nothing can make a cold slog through a downpour more appealing than the thought of three wonderful authors waiting for you in the Brigantine Room at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Made cozy with candlelit bistro tables instead of row seating, IFOA offers an intimate setting to get to know the authors and their works better. Hosted by Becky Toyne of Open Book Toronto and CBC Radio, the program featured three very different writers: Emma Healey (Elizabeth is Missing), Linda Holeman (The Devil on her Tongue), and Tom Rachman (The Rise & Fall of Great Powers).

Emma Healey began with a reading from her debut novel Elizabeth is Missing, an offbeat mystery told from the first person point of view of an elderly dementia patient. Maud is in her eighties and has a difficult time remembering things moment to moment in her present, relying heavily on Post-It notes. She knows for a fact that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing, but no one will take her seriously. Maud’s search for Elizabeth becomes mixed up with her much more cogent memories of her youth just after World War II, when her sister Sukie went missing. Emma is a lovely reader, soft voiced and passionate. The excerpt she read followed Maud to the police station to report Elizabeth’s disappearance, and showcased not only the frustration of living with a disease that destroys one’s memories, but also Maud’s unrelenting humour in the face of her situation. Emma segued into one of Maud’s remembrances of the search for Sukie, and when she finished, she smiled shyly, inviting applause.

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