Maud has one of the most poignant, memorable and distinctive voices I’ve ever read. She’s eighty-two years old and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, meaning that everyday life is struggle for her, although she doesn’t always realise it herself. Maud buys tins of peaches even though she has a cupboard full of them. She makes cups of tea and leaves them to go cold. She has to be told don’t leave the house, don’t cook, don’t keep calling the neighbours.
One day, Maud finds a piece of paper in her pocket that says “Elizabeth is missing”. Elizabeth is one of Maud’s closest and dearest friends, so she embarks on a confusing and disorienting journey to find out the truth. She needs to find ways to ensure she doesn’t forget her mission, so she makes little notes of her discoveries. Maud’s present experiences are twisted with memories of her sister Sukey’s disappearance decades before, and she often cannot tell whether she’s living twelve-year-old Maud’s story or her future.
If you’ve ever struggled to comprehend what having dementia must be like, surely Elizabeth is Missing is one of the most vivid ways of experiencing it for yourself. As the reader, we’re in the mind of Maud. It’ll leave you frustrated on behalf of Maud and a little angry at the way people with dementia are treated, yet you’ll find yourself understanding it at the same time. It’s a lose-lose battle for everyone. Maud frustrates her daughter, annoys the doctor and amuses the police, and not one of them is able to help her find Elizabeth. Because dementia is one of those things that both fascinates and terrifies me, I adored the present story (“Elizabeth is missing”) but occasionally wanted to push past her sister Sukey’s. As the story went on, I couldn’t wait to see how both stories were connected.
Elizabeth is Missing is brilliant not because of the mystery aspect of the story, although it kept me on edge, but because of its unforgettable perspective. It’ll leave you questioning your own memories and ability to hold onto them. Elizabeth is Missing has done a fabulous job in showing the world just how serious dementia is – it doesn’t receive as much attention as illnesses affecting younger people, but Maud – as a much older protagonist – shows us that she is most certainly still here.
Published: 5th June 2014 (UK) 10th June 2014 (US)
Publisher: Penguin Books (UK) Harper (US)