What shall I say? I felt for Maud Horsham and her daughter Helen. Maud buying peaches every day because she simply cannot remember having bought them before. All over the house papers are pasted on walls and doors to help remember Maud about things she has to or must not do. And worrying about her friend Elizabeth who has disappeared, not being able to remember that Elizabeth has taken ill and has been admitted to the hospital. It is disconcerting and confronting to read about the process that destroys more and more of Maud’s memory. I could absolutely sympathize with Helen: her sorrow in watching her mother deteriorate, her annoyance when Maud keeps on buying peaches or keeps on asking about Elizabeth. It does not make for a good novel though. The novel in itself gets interesting when the disappearance of Elizabeth is linked to the disappearance of Sukey, Maud’s sister. She disappeared many years ago and though family and police looked for her she was never found. In Maud’s mind the disappearances become interchangeable, thinking about Elizabeth she will find herself remembering her home and Sukey in the forties. Searching for Elizabeth Maud accidentally stumbles upon the truth about Sukey.
As I said, I felt for Maud and Helen. I could understand the despair and annoyance of the latter. I found myself thinking ‘not again’ when Maud brought up Elizabeth yet again. I wonder what would have happened if Healy had not introduced the mystery element. Would the process Maud was undergoing have been enough to sustain the novel? Or would Elizabeth is Missing have become one of those novels describing the awful process of dementia and the sorrow it causes to family and friends, banking on recognition not on literary quality? Fortunately Healy did introduce the link between Elizabeth and Sukey and thereby transformed Elizabeth is Missing into a decent mystery novel.