This debut novel by Emma Healey has been a massive hit, nominated for many awards. It is narrated by Maud, an 82-year-old with dementia who is trying desperately to work out where her best friend Elizabeth has disappeared to. Simultaneously we travel back in time to the 1940s, and hear Maud’s account of her sister Sukey’s disappearance.
The contrast between the past and present is very clear as Maud is lucid in the past tense, but it is in the present day where she becomes increasingly confused and constantly forgets and loses her memory. I found the depiction of Maud’s dementia to be excellent – we could really sense her confusion and frustration. I have a relative with dementia so could very much believe in what Maud was experiencing – but also I could relate to the frustration of those around her, who were constantly having to repeat themselves and explain things over and over to poor Maud. It is her daughter Helen, who visits Maud every day, who really bears the brunt of Maud’s constant confusion, and although her short temper is sometimes shocking it is also understandable under the circumstances.
The problem with the novel for me is the actual storyline. The back of the book suggests it is almost a detective story, but I didn’t really think it was the case. It is obvious from early on what has happened to Elizabeth but it is never quite clear why no-one seems to explain this to Maud – or put a sign on her wall as they do with everything else they are trying to get her to remember. The sections set in the past have the potential to be more interesting but again just fell a bit flat for me – I wasn’t that interested in the characters and the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance just didn’t grip me at all.
This book has had loads of rave reviews so I do feel as though I was missing something, but overall – beyond the brilliant depiction of dementia – the book really didn’t do anything for me. I found it pretty boring and although a story about a very forgetful elderly lady was never going to be action-packed, it needed a bit more to keep me interested. The sections set in the past had the potential to do this, but I think didn’t work for me as I found the characters a bit dull.