Elizabeth is missing

by Emma Healey

A book group choice, which I red several months in advance of the planned dicsussion meeting.  This book has been very much ‘hyped’ and available at booksellers over the past year or so, and I had considered buying a copy, but rejected it.  For the purposes of book group, I managed to get a copy from the library in good time.

The Elizabeth of the title barely appears in the book.  We eventually find out that she has had a stroke and is in hospital.  But her friend, Maud – in the early stages of dementia and still living on her own – is convinced that she must find Elizabeth.  In searching for her, she recalls events from her childhood which eventually fall into a story of passion and murder.  Maud unwittingly helps to solve the crime.

I felt that this book was a valiant attempt at showing what it might feel like to be inside the mind of a dementia sufferer.  But the truth is, none of us has any idea of the true horror of this condition for the person afflicted.  Maud does exhibit behaviour which the people around her see as abnormal: she forgets to eat, and finds it difficult to negotiate her daily activities.  She behaves in ways that frustrate her daughter: repeating phrases and actions, insisting on Elizabeth’s disappearance, and causing her daughter some anxiety.  She occasionally displays aggression.  But on the whole, and perhaps because the author has chosen to tell the story from Maud’s point of view, the reader is inclined to see her actions as benign and her reasoning as valid.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book.  It left me feeling almost as muddled as Maud herself – and perhaps this, too, was the author’s intention!

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The Buried Giant

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Writing this a year or so after reading it, I find I can’t remember much about the story except that it involves an early people (probably iron age), a journey, relationships and responsibility.  It was a strange but mesmerising book, and I am rather regretting having taken it back to the charity shop after reading it.  Perhaps I will have another go.  It’s the kind of book one goes back to.

It is also the first of Ish’s fiction that I have read since hearing him speak at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2015, where I was very impressed both by his lucidity and the general impression he gave of being a ‘nice person’.  I have previously read The Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go.  All of them some years ago, not long after they were published.  Ishiguro is not a prolific writer by any standards, though he has written some short stories – which I will definitely get down to – and the long, some say impossible novel The Unconsoled.  Not sure whether I will try to tackle that one.  Perhaps life is too short.