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Book DetailsISBN: 9780241968185
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Book Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey - Reviewed by CloggieA (28 Feb 2015)
“…I remember the town being almost too bright to look at when I was a girl. I remember the deep blue of the sky and the dark green of the pines cutting through it, the bright red of the local brick houses and the orange carpet of pine needles under our feet. Nowadays – though I’m sure the sky is still occasionally blue and most houses are still there, and the trees still drop their needles – nowadays, the colours seem faded, as if I live in an old photograph.”
Elizabeth Is Missing is the first novel by British author, Emma Healey. Eighty-two-year-old Maud Horsham is demented. She lives in her own home, has a carer coming daily to help out, and gets regular visits from her daughter Helen. And she is fairly certain that her best friend, Elizabeth is missing. Elizabeth is not at home (Maud has checked) and she feels that Elizabeth’s unfriendly son, Peter Markham is sure to be behind it. Maud finds it frustrating how unconcerned both Helen and the Police are about her disappearance.
While she still has lucid moments, Maud’s mental state ensures that generally her narrative of the present-day is unreliable. But the people and things that fill her day remind her of a time, almost seventy years ago, when she was fourteen and her older, married sister, Susan went missing. After dinner with her family, Sukey disappeared almost without a trace. Did she just run off, as many people just after the war did? Or did her jealous husband, Frank, or the family’s lodger, Doug, have something to do with it? Or was she a victim of the Grosvenor Hotel murderer? Maud’s memories of this time are crystal clear.
While this is a mystery that builds quite gradually, and it is perhaps not the mystery that the reader first expects (Elizabeth’s location is no real surprise), patience is rewarded as the pieces fall into place. Healey expertly segues present triggers into memories of the past, and despite her youth, shows an amazing insight into the world of the elderly and the demented. As anyone with a demented relative or friend will agree, there are times when the best reaction is to laugh, the alternative being to cry, and Healey portrays these moments with consummate ease. This is not a book for everyone: some readers may find it strikes a little too close to home. Perceptive, blackly funny and often frighteningly realistic, this is a brilliant debut novel.
Emma Healey wrote her first short story when she was four, told her teachers she was going to be a writer when she was eight, but had learnt better by twelve and had decided on being a litigator (inspired entirely by the film Clueless). It took another ten years before she came back to writing. She grew up in London where she went to art college and completed her first degree in bookbinding. She then worked for two libraries, two bookshops, two art galleries and two universities, and was busily pursuing a career in the art world before writing overtook everything. She moved to Norwich in 2010 to study for the MA in Creative Writing at UEA and never moved back again. Elizabeth is Missing is her first novel; it won the Costa First Novel Award 2014 and was shortlisted for the National Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. Emma Healey was also shortlisted as an NBA New Writer of the Year.
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