Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Elizabeth Is Missing, by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing is a terrifying book--not because it has to do with the disappearance of two women 70 years apart but because it is told from the perspective of an 80-ish woman named Maud, who is suffering from dementia that is gradually worsening. Maud is convinced that her friend Elizabeth is missing--after all, she doesn't answer the door or pick up phone calls. But no one will listen to Maud because her grip on reality is becoming less and less reliable and her behavior more and more erratic. Her inability to figure out what has happened to Elizabeth becomes entwined in her mind with the disappearance of her sister Sukey in the 1940s, a mystery unsolved for 70 years.

At the beginning of the book, Maud is frustrated by both her faltering memory and the fact that no one takes her seriously. She tries to use such coping strategies as writing herself notes--but the notes are easily jumbled as well, with notes from weeks ago and just minutes ago stuck in the same pocket. As her mental condition deteriorates, she becomes terrified of what is happening and her frustration occasionally turns to rage.

While we do learn what happened to both Elizabeth and Sukey, it is what happens to Maud that really matters. Of course, it's impossible to say what it is like to be in the head of someone with dementia, but Healey's depiction seems all too real. For those of us old enough to be worrying about dementia, Elizabeth Is Missing may be too scary to contemplate. For someone dealing with a loved one with dementia, however, the book might be an excellent (and entertaining) way to gain some insight into what that might be like.

Favorite passage:

I forget things--I know that--but I'm not mad. Not yet. And I'm sick of being treated as if I am. I'm tired of the sympathetic smiles and the little pats people give you when you get things confused, and I'm bloody fed up with everyone deferring to Helen [her daughter] rather than listening to what I have to say.

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