Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

July 9, 2014

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

ElizAs I have first hand experience of Alzheimer’s, Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey appealed to me and it made me laugh and despair in equal measures. The story is about an 82 year old woman, Maud, who has Alzheimer’s and believes that her best friend, Elizabeth, has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. This makes her think about her own childhood when her elder sister, Sukey, also suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again.

None of us know what goes on in the mind of a dementia patient but Emma’s take seems credible and is also heart-warming as, like my own mother, Maud is cared for by carers and her daughter.

There is a murder mystery to be solved and it is only Maud that understands this. Through her you see how fragmented the human mind can be, how able she is in remembering the past but cannot deal with her everyday present life. Her timeline gets confused and you genuinely feel the frustration and fear which are all the emotions that my own mother experiences. Some people treat Maud with great kindness whilst others are impatient and make her feel she has gone mad. It says more about the intolerance of the people around Maud and makes one feel how impatient we all are when people do not do tasks as quickly as you expect, how lonely old people can be and how we are so busy ourselves it is easy to not make time for the elderly.

This is an incredible debut novel and I think that it should be a must read for anyone under the age of 70 years – it has a story as well as a message which you will understand when you have read it.


The novel is both a gripping detective yarn and a haunting depiction of mental illness, but also more poignant and blackly comic than you might expect from that description… perhaps Healey’s greatest achievement is the flawless voice she creates for Maud. (The Observer)

A compelling mystery that capture the experience of Maud, a highly memorable elderly woman losing her memory (Sunday Express)

A thrillingly assured, haunting and unsettling novel, I read it at a gulp (Deborah Moggach)

One of those semi-mythical beasts, the book you cannot put down (Jonathan Coe)

Already being tipped for literary stardom. At the London Book Fair last April, nine publishers fought for her debut, Elizabeth is Missing… a tale of dementia, its TV rights have already been sold (Evening Standard’s Fourteen in 2014)

Memory – or the lack of it – continues to be a big theme in fiction. The manuscript of this debut mystery narrated by an 81 year old who can’t quite remember what she’s investigating created a buzz at the London book fair in 2013 (Guardian’s 2014 Books)

Elizabeth is Missing will stir and shake you: an investigation into a seventy-year-old crime, through the eyes of the most likeably unreliable of narrators. But the real mystery at its compassionate core is the fragmentation of the human mind. (Emma Donoghue, award-winning author of Room).

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