Book Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing

A few posts ago I said I was going to try and read some of the books from the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction longlist  So far I have managed just one; ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey, but it was a very good one.

This is a mystery of a most unique kind. Maud is in her eighties and she is  forgetful. She forgets that she has eaten, she forgets where she is and sometimes she forgets her family. However there is one thing she rarely forgets; her friend Elizabeth is missing, and no one seems able or willing to help her find her. With the assistance of the scribbled notes in her pockets and a dogged persistence Maud is determined to solve this mystery.

This book is so clever and it soon becomes clear that there is in fact a dual story and a dual mystery running side by side. As Maud tries to discover Elizabeth’s whereabouts she is getting closer to discovering the truth about the disappearance of her sister Sukey.  It is the readers job with Elizabeth to solve these ‘mysteries’.

As Maud retreats further into the past, and the present becomes increasingly confusing, the events that happened 70 years ago around Sukey’s disappearance become clearer. Maude voice is so clear and Emma Healey’s portrayal of memory loss and dementia is both moving and accurate as the fog of Mauds mind is so clearly documented on the page. Maud manages her life through notes. She has notes everywhere, notes to remind her what to do, what not to do and what she’s done. Maudes note writing is encouraged by her family and her carer Carla in the hope that the notes will somehow keep Maud safe.

“There are bits of paper all over the house, lying in piles or stuck up on different surfaces. Scribbles shopping lists and recipes, telephone numbers and appointments, notes about things that have already happened, My paper memory. It’s supposed to stop me forgetting things. But my daughter tells me I lose the notes. I have that written down too.”

Despite the poignancy there is also humor and warmth.  This is particularly evident in the relationship Maud has with her granddaughter Katy.

‘Hi Grandma’ Katy says, coming to stand in front of me with outstretched arms ‘This is me’

‘Hello, you’ I say

‘So do you know who I am?’

‘Of course I know who you are, Katy, don’t be ridiculous.’

Katy laughs and turns to her mother. ‘She’s cured!’

‘What is she talking about ?’ I say, looking over at Helen. ‘Your daughter’s mad.’

‘Oh, Grandma.’ Katy says, putting her arm around my shoulders. ‘One of us is.’

The deterioration of Mauds memory is written in such a kind way, its clear the author cares about Maud. She captures the fear that must go with the knowledge that thoughts and memories are slipping out of control

“I yawn and put a newspaper package on the floor next to another similar one. They are strange muffled shapes and I push then away. There is something frightening about their facelessness. That must be what my thoughts look like, masked and unrecognisable.”

 This is such an authentic novel; I enjoyed it immensely. I urge you to read it too, I’m confidant you won’t be disappointed.




  1. April 16, 2015 / 9:15 pm

    great review. I saw this book in Foyles – but i was looking for books for my teens at the time and we ending up browsing amongst the sports autobiographies.

    • April 16, 2015 / 9:41 pm

      Thank you Rachel. I really recommend it next time you are book shop buying!

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