Friday, 15 January 2016

Elizabeth is Missing

I just finished reading this amazing book by Emma Healey. The tag line on the front cover, 'How do you solve a mystery when you can't remember the clues?' intrigued me enough to flip it over to read the back cover.

"Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn't remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable -- or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger. 

But there's one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud's damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. one everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud..."

My mother had dementia.  The progress of her problem was slow until a brain bleed, probably caused by a fall, landed her in the hospital's emergency ward where she underwent surgery to drain the hemorrhage causing pressure in her brain. Physically she recovered incredibly well and quickly but mentally it became clear that she could no longer live on her own. Now THAT was a summer.

A summer of shock, discovery, and tears. All of a sudden she couldn't be left alone. No matter how many times I told her not to use the stove or explained why she would have to move and why we had to sell the car and most of her furniture. No matter how many notes I left stuck on the walls, stove, fridge, microwave, and mirrors, she just didn't retain it. If I had to leave her apartment I had to pull the stove out from the wall and unplug it before leaving and locking her in. I came back once (with groceries) to find her pacing the living room seething with anger. She accused me of going to a party without her and yelled, "So I've hid all the liquor!" (I found it later in a bag under the bed...there was a story from her past there I bet!) I suggested we take a walk to get some ice cream and soon she was calm and all was forgotten.

So, as Maud, the book's main character and narrative voice, dissolves further into her dementia/alzheimer's there's a hell of a lot that rings true. And there's humour too, albeit on the dark side. It's clear the author, Emma Healey, was very sensitive to the decline of her own grandmother. And did something I don't think I did often enough...think of how the world seems from the perspective of the one losing their grasp of it. One of the scenes that twisted my head round and gave me insight into what my poor Mom must have felt at times, takes place soon after Helen (Maud's daughter) takes her home to live with her.

"Where is the loo?" I say.

She points and I follow the direction of her finger, passing a mirror in the hallway. I'm wearing Patrick's shirt. I'll have to change it, but I can't think where my room is; everything looks strange. I get a fluttering in my chest and I take a step towards a door. There's a sign on it, LOO THIS WAY, as if someone knew I'd be looking! I don't know whether to be grateful or afraid.
All the following links and video contain spoilers.

Click here for a Guardian book review and here to read an extract. Or listen to an interview with Healey on the WHSmith podcast Richard and Judy Book Club.


ljbrennala said...

Sound like something that could be a good read for me.....