51 pages 1 hour read

Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Elizabeth Is Missing by British author Emma Healey was published in 2014 and tells the story of Maud Horsham, an old woman suffering from dementia. Maud’s older sister, Sukey, disappeared in the 1940s. Seventy years later, this tragic event continues to haunt Maud, who now thinks her best friend Elizabeth is missing. Maud is desperate to figure out what happened to Sukey and Elizabeth before she loses her ability to piece together the clues.

Maud’s daughter, Helen, and a paid caregiver, Carla, care for Maud. They warn Maud not to leave the house, to stop buying tinned peaches, and not to turn on the stove. Maud either ignores or forgets each of these rules.

Determined to find out what’s happened to her friend Elizabeth, Maud visits the police station multiple times, places a missing persons ad in the local paper, and repeatedly visits Elizabeth’s house looking for clues. Maud’s inability to retain information makes it difficult for her to piece together the information she learns. Maud keeps scraps of paper in her pockets to track the clues; her jumbled and incomplete notes mirror her mental state.

Although Maud’s understanding of the present is fuzzy, her memories of the past are clear, and, at times, the narrative slips into this past. For instance, Maud remembers every detail of the year her sister Sukey went missing. Sukey married Frank Gerrard, who owned a moving business but also dealt in the black market. At the time, Maud’s family also had a lodger named Douglas who lost his home to a bombing during World War II. Young Maud suspects both Frank and Douglas might have had something to do with Sukey’s disappearance.

Young Maud collects clues to Sukey’s disappearance. She clips articles out of the local paper about missing women and murder victims; intercepts a letter that Sukey sent to Douglas; and asks Frank if he had anything to do with Sukey’s death. Maud also puzzles over the ravings of the neighborhood “mad woman” who whispers to her about glass smashing, birds flying, soil, and summer squash.

In the final chapter of the novel, back in the present, Maud leads Helen to Elizabeth’s house where Helen discovers Sukey’s body in the garden. Maud believes that Frank killed Sukey and buried her there. Helen contacts the police, and they promise to investigate.

Maud also learns that Elizabeth is “missing” because she was recovering from a stroke in a rehabilitation home. Helen and Maud visit Elizabeth, but shortly after, Maud forgets the visit.

In the Epilogue, Maud attends Elizabeth’s funeral but doesn’t know who she is or what’s happening. At the end of the novel, Maud still believes that Elizabeth is missing.