My initial reaction on picking up this novel was that the central idea of a woman with dementia struggling to solve a missing person case was perhaps a bit gimmicky, the dementia aspect of the story purely a novelty device to grab the attention of potential readers. In actual fact, the portrayal of the main character’s disease is as important and engaging, if not more so, than the missing person mystery itself.
As events unfold, what emerges is a haunting picture of a mind in deterioration; memories and identity become shredded into smaller and smaller fragments which, by the end of the book, are almost impossible for Maud to piece together. At first, she stands at the counter of a shop and can’t remember what she wanted to buy. By the time her story draws to a close her mind is failing to the point where even her own daughter has become a stranger to her. We feel every frustration, every flash of rage and every wave of panic as those around her inevitably fail to understand what’s going on inside her head.
For Maud, memories from decades ago fuse indistinguishably with present events, and before long the reader realises that there may be more than one mystery here to be resolved. As to the fate of Elizabeth herself, I don’t want to reveal too much; suffice to say that, as you might imagine given this most unreliable of narrators, all is not necessarily as it first appears. However, the point of this novel is not to keep you guessing until the final page – it becomes clear relatively early on where the story is headed. The missing Elizabeth is ultimately a symbol of Maud’s emotional isolation, separated as she is not just from Elizabeth but from those who are still by her side yet unreachable. It is not just those who are physically absent who are lost once dementia takes hold.
I was a huge fan of this book, primarily because it was so much more sensitive to its subject matter than I’d anticipated, and it left me with a lingering sadness that I didn’t expect. It was so much more than the novel I imagined it would be.