Elizabeth is Missing


elizabeth Maud is confused about many things, but there is one thing she’s sure of: Elizabeth is missing.

A fitting book to mark my return to blogging, it would seem, since I have pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, internetally speaking. What can I say? It’s been a tough year. I’m on my third job this year. For some this doesn’t seem strange, but in the dozen years before 2015, I had only had two total jobs, so you can see it’s been a big year.

“But wait,” you say. “You stopped writing in June of last year, long before any job transitions were on the horizon.”

And to you I say, “thanks for being a fan, even if an overly particular, contradictory one who clearly wants to belittle me in front of the entire internet.” And then I say, “what’s over there?” while pointing, because cartoons have taught me the infallibility of this particular distraction method.

“Oh ho,” another well-intentioned reader might point out, “maybe she’s a little too delicate for the world wide web.” To whom I say, “shall we get onto the book review, please?”

Seriously, though, it hasn’t been anything dramatic. Life gets in the way, that’s all. But I loved this book and wanted to talk about it, so here I am.

So here’s the premise: the novel is told from the point of view of Maud, an eighty-two year old woman with dementia. The book never clarifies whether Maud suffers from Alzheimer’s or just plain old dementia (although I’m not sure whether that’s even important), although Maud’s daughter Helen nods a coy reference to the former when she curses herself for constantly forgetting to bring her reusable bags to the grocery store.   “Early onset, you think?” she asks her mom, who misses the reference. The reader doesn’t however, which is a common theme in this book. Maud, after all, forgets everything, which could have turned her into a tiresome narrator. Healey’s deft touch, however, avoids this obstacle, although at times I identified with Helen’s exasperation with her mother’s repetitive questions, such as “Where are we going?” and then, moments later, “Where are we going?”

Maud writes herself notes as reminders. Many of her notes mention Elizabeth, as well as the fact Maud hasn’t seen her for some time, though exactly how long, of course, she doesn’t remember. Between her searches for her friend, Maud relates memories of her childhood. Her sister Sukey had also gone missing when Maud was a child, and the family’s search for answers parallels Maud’s own fractured piecing together of reality in the present. The two mysteries intertwine as  snippets of Maud’s lucid thoughts provide clues without context. The reader, for some time, is just as confused as Maud. This effect, rather than irritating me, actually made me sympathize with Maud as she struggles to remind herself, again and again, of what’s true, what’s real.

I listened to this book in audiobook format, and Davina Porter’s narration added to the delight of this book. Maud is understandably volatile — one moment she’s angry, the next she’s scared, or tearful, or laughing hysterically. Porter does a great job of switching from mood to mood and character to character.

I have often been stricken by the vulnerability of identity. In fact, a sentence in a recent Deborah Crombie book (Mourn Not Your Dead) has stayed with me, a simple aside that struck me as profound:

I’ve learned from experience that it’s a great emotional risk to ground one’s identity entirely in one’s work. Life is entirely too tumultuous for that — you can lose a job or a career tomorrow, and then where are you? The same is true of marriage and motherhood. You have to rely on something deeper than that, something inviolate.

As I read this book, I began to realize how much our senses of self are bound up in our memories. As Maud forgets who her children are and where she is, a question haunted me: who are we without our memories?

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One Comment on "Elizabeth is Missing"

  1. Antonio Antonio
    25/07/2015 at 6:37 pm Permalink

    This is very interesting because right now I am dealing with my mother who has Alzheimer’s dementia and she is in the last stages sometimes he just starts talking about what we don’t know it could be meretricious phisalage

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