Once I started reading this book I couldn’t put it down and finished it within a few days. It is easy to see why this debut novel by Emma Healey sparked a bidding war between multiple publishers and its television rights were sold before the book had even made it onto the shelves. Winner of ‘Best First Novel Award’ at the Costa Book Awards it is a moving and highly touching story that keeps you thinking long after you have finished the last page.
Maud is in her eighties and is suffering with the onset of dementia. She constantly forgets things and her house is covered with notes (her ‘paper memory’) with reminders of where she needs to be and things she needs to do. Even though Maud’s memory isn’t what it used to be, she is sure of one thing – that her friend Elizabeth is missing. Where is Elizabeth? Why is her house empty and why does Elizabeth’s son keep removing her things? These are the questions that continually go round in Maud’s head – yet no-one else seems to want to know.
You begin to realise how Maud is perceived by the outside world in her exchanges with other people in her life – her carers, the local shopkeeper, the policeman when she goes to report Elizabeth as a missing person and even her own family. Other people’s perspectives of Maud slowly start to creep further to the foreground and you begin to piece together what her daughter Helen must be going through.
The book flips between the present and the past and the narrative weaves Maud’s post-war childhood memories into the story. She has no trouble remembering events from the past and you are taken back in time to when she was growing up, her family relationships and how these shape her future. Eventually the past and present combine to create an ending which answers vital questions that for many years have been left unanswered.
I trusted Maud. Even though her memory isn’t what it used to be, Healey gives Maud’s voice an authority that leaves the reader trusting her account of events. I also found the small details the most moving throughout the story – the description of Maud going downstairs to make herself a cup of tea (even though she knows she isn’t allowed) and her regular journey to the local corner shop. The small details make you feel thoroughly immersed in Maud’s life and you really feel for her that things that once came so easily are now out of the question for her.
I thought this book was brilliant and really enjoyed reading it. I found it touching and the story stayed with me for a long time afterwards.