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“How to beat Alzheimer’s with audacity and tenacity”: A Review of “Elizabeth Is Missing” by Emma Healey

 

This is one of those rare books which defies genre and begs to be thrust upon everyone in your reading circle in an evangelical fashion. It really is that good!

Viv Ceroskop1 describes it in The Observer as, “Maggie O’Farrell meets Gone Girl.” Reaching the Sunday Times Top Five Bestseller list, it certainly has got book clubs, reviewers, creative writing teachers and novelists enthused.

Maud is the narrator heroine, who is rapidly approaching eighty and gripped by Alzheimer’s. She lives alone, with daily visits from carers and her long-suffering daughter, Helen. The novels spans two time –periods; her youth, when her elder sister Sukey disappeared, and the present-day, where she is busy searching for her best friend, Elizabeth.

Part crime fiction and part literary exploration, the reader is invited to join Maud as she tries to solve the mysteries of these two missing women. Healey’s wonderfully delicate writing exposes the terror of progressive Alzheimer’s, where reality and fiction seemingly collide and Maud is left wondering if things really are as they seem. Our intrepid crime detective makes incessant notes to herself, reminding her to “find Elizabeth” and “to stop buying peach slices.” As a daughter with a father with Alzheimer’s, I resonated with Maud’s frustrations with her unreliable memory and her desperate struggle to hold on to any semblance of truth, conviction and ultimately, validation.

There are parallels to, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Haddon, where Christopher Boone investigates the murder of his neighbour’s dog. He has Asperger’s syndrome and the novel reveals some facets of autism as well as a crime detective story. In the same vein, this novel depicts the coping strategies Maud employs to counter her permanent memory loss.

This is a poignant book that reminds everyone to look past Alzheimer’s, that terrifying geriatric mental illness and remember that the brain is a remarkable organ, capable of remembering the smallest detail: even crime-solving evidence.

By Liz Dickinson

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