The Horror Honeys: Haunted Bookclub: Elizabeth is Missing

Haunted Bookclub: Elizabeth is Missing

A Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn 

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey 

Please allow me one of my occasional divergences from straight-up horror, as this week’s Hardcover Honey read deals not with feral children or fallen priests but with something we all fear, the loss of our memory, and thus ourselves.  Did you ever have one of those family stories?  The kind your parents tell so often you almost feel like you remember it yourself, even though you were too young for any kind of real recollection?  As I grow older, I am endlessly fascinated with the pliability of memory and how much of our personality is really just an odds and ends collection of our own most precious memories.

In “Elizabeth is Missing”, 82 year old Maud vacillates between awareness and fog – her recall is rapidly fading, to the point where she sometimes doesn’t even recognize her own daughter, Helen.  As Maud deteriorates, however, she is sure of one thing – that her friend, the similarly-aged Elizabeth, is missing.  Might Elizabeth’s shifty son Peter have something to do with her disappearance?   Maud tries to grasp at the present, scattering her house with post-it notes and listening to her home health care assistants when they give her instructions, but something feels just slightly….off……like looking at a doorway centimeters off-kilter and tilting your head to try and bring it back into focus.  “Elizabeth is Missing” at times felt like a senior citizen version of Memento – and I mean that as a compliment, of course!

Elizabeth’s disappearance brings an earlier mystery to mind, as Maud’s sister Sukey vanished many decades earlier during WW II.  Did she leave of her own volition or was she the victim of foul play at the hands of her handsome and charming husband Frank?  Where does Maud’s parents lodger Douglas fit in?  And the “mad woman” who roams the area, shouting at people and brandishing her umbrella – could she have anything to do with Sukey going missing?  

As the story shifts forwards and backwards in a sometimes confusing timeline, we get a sense of what it’s like being locked inside of Maud’s own disoriented brain.  When she grasps for words, we feel her anxiety.  Her worries about Elizabeth are dark and we fear the worst.  When the truth comes, it is not unexpected, but Healey does a masterful job of weaving one mystery around the other and the past around the present.  

Although this one lacks the gory stuff some Horror Honeys readers demand, it has a wider appeal and is definitely recommended!

3 out of 5 gauzy recollections for this one