Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing final UK cover copy 
Something rather different here, and a book which I enjoyed very much.  I wonder if I should use the word "enjoyed" for a book whose heroine is a very elderly lady suffering from dementia?   Well... yes, I can.  A well written book with a subject that probably worries us all as we get older - when we forget the word for something and say something like "you know what I mean, the stick thing, for cutting a loaf" and then five minutes later remember it's called a bread knife!  This doesn't mean dementia is on the way for you, but here is a book that will help you if you know someone who suffers already, or someone you cared for very much that is now gone - I suddenly realised how hard it must be for the sufferer.

Maud's friend Elizabeth is missing.  She's been to her home several times, but there is no-one there; she's phoned too, but no-one ever answers the phone. She's reported this several times at the local police station, but the sergeant on the desk just laughs.  She has come across Elizabeth's son too, who just shouts and swears at her.  She just does not know where Elizabeth can possibly be.  She keeps notes on small scraps of paper that are supposed to help her through the day, like "don't make toast" (she's putting on weight); but the most important ones are, of course, about Elizabeth.

Older memories sneak in now, and the writing changes, for all the memories of her childhood and teens seem crystal clear, and her sister Sukey, who left home when she married, also disappeared.  The younger Maud is desperate, like their parents, to find their missing sister and daughter.  She visits Sukey's home, she discusses the disappearance with Douglas, their young lodger, Frank, Sukey's husband, and her parents are often on the train up to London, in case Sukey just ran away. 

So I really liked how the author showed the difference between old and new memories here.  Maud remembering everything from 70 years ago, but not very much at all of yesterday.

Specialists who deal with dementia will confirm that as the memory starts to go, the new memories disappear very quickly, the old memories are much more clear, and stay with the patient longer.  A friend who's Mum suffered in this way was told by her doctor to perhaps imagine it this way.  Think about an old-fashioned pantry or larder, full of shelves of food, bottles, packets, bags.  As the memory starts to go, the shelves nearest to door start to collapse, and all the fresh foods and recently bought packages fall,ruined, on the floor.  But there at the back, on the dark shelves, are jars of jam and pickles made years ago, and the shelves holding them up are sturdy, and not collapsing.