In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?
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Kimberly McCreight Emma Healey
Kimberly McCreight, author of the New York Times bestselling Reconstructing Amelia, interviews Emma Healey
Kimberly McCreight (KM): One of the things I most admire about Elizabeth is Missing—and there is so much to admire—is the utterly convincing voice of Maud, both in her advanced years and when she is much younger. How did you tackle the challenge of presenting a single character at such disparate times within a single narrative?
Emma Healey (EH): I’m so glad it’s convincing, thank you. I started with Maud’s voice as an eighty-year-old and found that only needed a little adjusting to take her back into childhood. The voice overall is very much based on my mother’s mother, Vera. I was very close to her and she had (ironically) a brilliant memory and had lots of stories to tell about her early life. I spent most of my school holidays with her, so remembering and sticking to the kind of words she would have used gave me a guide for Maud’s lexicon. Voice is so much about vocabulary. I do have to say though, I think writing from the point-of-view of a single character, even in two time frames, is much easier than swapping between characters. Reading Reconstructing Amelia, I am amazed at how well you alternate a first-person and third-person narrative, from the point-of-view of a teenager and a mother, as well as using Facebook statuses and text messages, all in one novel. I should be asking you how you made that work so well!
KM: Was there something that drew you to writing about a character losing her grip on reality, particularly one struggling with dementia?
EH: The initial inspiration for the book came from my father's mother, Nancy, who has multi-infarct dementia, but my aunt’s mother-in-law had suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years before that and other members of my family had had various forms of dementia. At the time, dementia wasn’t something that was being talked about so much and I was fascinated (as well as terrified and upset) by the way a person could come and go—one minute their old selves, the next in a world of their own. Their patterns of behavior could be anything from perfectly reasonable to completely bizarre and it seemed like there was a lot more going on under the surface, which was difficult to discover or explain, and this seemed ripe for fictional exploration.
KM: Elizabeth is Missing has such a smooth, flawless structure. You move so nimbly through time, without relying on chapter breaks or some such device to delineate different sections. It works so well that I think any demarcations would have interfered with the story. Can you talk a bit about the decision to include chapters that switch back and forth through time?
EH: Thank you. Again, I’m really glad you think so. The structure happened fairly organically. I felt that a dialogue between current and past events was truer to the way memories work – they break into your immediate thoughts, rather than wait for you to decide to have them – and I wanted the sections to be relatively short in order to mirror the fragmentary experience of dementia. Not dividing the past and present into separate chapters made it easier too to increase the length of the past story as Maud’s preoccupation with it intensified (and as her awareness of the world around her faded), without signaling too heavily to the reader and without losing the thread or balance of either narrative.
KM: Your book is both a compelling emotional story as well as a mystery. Which comes first for you?
EH: I find plotting a book very exciting, and really enjoy trying to weave in narrative strands and tie up all the ends, but I have to feel there is some real experience behind the story, some “truth” that I’m attempting to represent, too. And these two things seem to me to be inextricably linked. It’s much easier to engage emotionally when there is an intriguing story unfolding – a dull character or a character in a dull situation is difficult to take an interest in, even if they are sympathetic. Similarly, for a mystery to work and for the reader to care whether, and how, it is solved, there needs to be a certain amount of emotional investment in the characters and themes.
KM: I couldn’t agree more. There needs to be a constant dialogue between character and story. Trying to achieve that balance is, for me, one of the greatest joys and the greatest challenges of being a novelist. What's your biggest challenge as a writer?
EH: Being a writer means being constantly mentally engaged. This is great in some ways as it’s exciting and gives a context and significance to every aspect of life, but it also means there are no off-duty hours. So anytime I’m not writing (or not observing, listening, note-taking), I’m feeling guilty about it. Justifying writing is sometimes difficult, too: Why this subject? Why this character? But most of all, why me? What can I offer that another writer couldn’t? A terrible question because the answer is invariably nothing.
KM: You’re right, that “why” is very important. It inevitably pushes your story to a much stronger place. What's your background? Elizabeth is Missing is such an accomplished debut, I'm assuming—okay, maybe hoping—there was some writing that came before it. Otherwise, I might be far too jealous.
EH: Ha ha! Well, I wrote lots of bits of things, of course, but I hadn’t really finished anything before Elizabeth is Missing. My first degree was in Book Arts, and the course did offer a Creative Writing module, but I was too shy to take it. Instead, I learned how to sew pages together and foil block and print. I was always an avid reader though, and I began to take short courses in writing and editing after I graduated and started the novel while I was working in an art gallery in London. I also found a workshop group, which was brilliant and gave me the confidence to experiment and find Maud’s voice. Eventually, I went back to university to get my MA in Creative Writing at UEA.
KM: Well, I certainly can’t wait to see what you do next. Best wishes with Elizabeth is Missing. It’s such a wonderful book.
From the Back Cover:
In this darkly riveting debut novel, a sophisticated psychological mystery, one woman will stop at nothing to fiFInd her best friend, who seems to have gone missing. . . .
Despite Maud's growing anxiety about Elizabeth's welfare, no one takes her concerns seriously—not her frustrated daughter, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth's mercurial son—because Maud suffers from dementia. But even as her memory disintegrates and she becomes increasingly dependent on the trail of handwritten notes she leaves for herself in her pockets and around her house, Maud cannot forget her best friend. Armed with only an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth—no matter what it takes.
As this singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud's rapidly dissolving present, the clues she uncovers lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: that of her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II. As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more than fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud's search for Elizabeth develops a frantic momentum. Whom can she trust? Can she trust herself?
A page-turning novel of suspense, Elizabeth Is Missing also hauntingly reminds us that we are all at the mercy of our memory. Always compelling, often poignant, and at times even blackly witty, this is an absolutely unforgettable novel.
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Book Description HARPER PERENNIAL, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 198 x 132 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable or her daughter, Helen, seems a total stranger.But there s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.Because somewhere in Maud s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.Everyone, except Maud . . .A page-turning story of suspense, Elizabeth Is Missing hauntingly reminds us that we are all at the mercy of our memory. Always compelling, often poignant, and at times even blackly witty, this is an absolutely unforgettable novel. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780062309686
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