Maud is 82 and has dementia, she forgets a lot of things, unable to recall what she's just done, what she was intending to do, which results in cups of tea left standing forgotten, trips to the shop that leave her baffled as to what she went for, and even more sadly, the inability at times to even recognise her daughter Helen or her granddaughter Katy. Maud keeps scribbled notes, crumpled in her pocket, lying around her house, or in her bag, but she can't even rely on these when she can't recall what they meant, or why she'd written them.
Something that keeps recurring in her thoughts though, is the notion that her friend Elizabeth, who she worked with at the Oxfam shop and who she gets on well with, is missing. Her mind keeps returning to this thought, she is certain about it, and keeps mentioning it again and again, it's a mystery that keeps nagging at her mind, breaking through even when so much else cannot. And there's something else, something in the back of her mind, a deep sadness from her past, where another mystery hides, without an answer, unless Maud can manage to break through the confusion and uncover it.
It is so sad because there are moments when Maud has a self-awareness and is conscious of how she must come across, sad when even the most mundane of situations becomes very difficult and the times when the reader fears she may end up in danger, and so sad when she is unable to recognise her loved ones, her daughter Helen who does so much for her and endures so much. I felt as I read that I understood a little of how desperately difficult it was for Maud, and for Helen, Emma Healey has conveyed this vividly through her writing, by depicting a lot of everyday occurences and showing how they are affected or complicated by Maud's illness.
Yet the story is not without humour, there are light touches and moments that made me smile; a moment I particularly liked was when Maud was at the library, uninterested in reading mystery novels, her thoughts are that 'I don't think I'm quite up to that. I have enough mystery in my life as it is.'
As to the mystery elements, there are clues that allow us to suppose we might know what could have happened, in the present and the past, and I was interested to read on and discover the resolution to both parts, though I had an idea of what the truth might be with regard to the past before it was revealed. I enjoyed revisiting the past with Maud, hearing about her in her younger days just after the Second World War and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister Sukey.
For me though the strongest part of the novel is the depiction of Maud herself, a memorable character who made me smile, made me feel very sad, whose determination I admired, whose memory loss I mourned. There are lovely, clever and relevant little illustrations heading up each chapter and are worth paying attention to as the thread of the mystery progresses. This is an insightful, moving, at times heartbreaking debut novel of memory, families, love and loss. I didn't want to put it down and feel glad to have read it.
Author links - twitter @ECHealey | website |
There's a great post on JacquiWine's Journal about an evening at Waterstones Picadilly with the author discussing the novel.