A Memorable Voice

Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is missingAmerican pastor and author Ben Reaoch recently wrote an article on the subject of  spiritual amnesia saying that ‘the way the human memory works (and doesn’t work) is a mysterious thing.’  He describes how his grandmother died in 2010 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Emma Healey’s novel, Elizabeth is Missing, was also inspired by her own grandmothers one of whom suffered from dementia.  She approaches the subject through the character of the elderly Maud, who is self-confessedly ‘a bit forgetful’.  Convinced that her friend Elizabeth is missing she valiantly attempts to solve the mystery while  simultaneously experiencing increasing memory malfunction.

Maud’s carer Carla, her daughter Helen, Elizabeth’s offensive son, Peter and even the police fail to take her concern seriously.  Or so it seems to Maud.  There never was a more unreliable narrator and yet one whose own internal dialogue is strangely eloquent.  “My left side feels suddenly chilly where she was sitting against it.  A current of cold water in a warm sea’.  Details are minutely observed as are her lucid recollections of the past. Continue reading

A memoir of a childhood

This Boy
by Alan Johnson

This Boy Alan JohnsonA book that I would not normally have chosen, I bought this on a 3 for 2 offer at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge along with a detective novel and a book on literary theory. And now I never want to be heard complaining about my circumstances again – ever. To my shame, I wouldn’t normally go for biography.   Particularly not the biography of a Labour politician.  I’m too easily drawn by the escapism of fiction. However, I was humbled and inspired by this account.  I was left with a sense of having met with the character of Lily, Alan’s mother, named Lily throughout, never ‘mum’ or ‘my mother’ and also with Alan himself.  Not the boy Alan that the writer describes, but the Alan who wrote the book, Alan the writer.  The adult Alan.  Like Pissarro in his impressionist paintings,  he only just peeps into his own work.  I love a person free from the shackles of their own ego and there was a wonderful absence of ego in this piece of writing.  No self-glorification, nor self-congratulation or self-anything.  Just a frank description, at times humorous, at times painfully bleak and moving of a childhood which I for one would not have survived.  Oddly, despite her key role in the story, Alan’s sister Linda did not come alive for me despite being very much alive herself.  It was Lily’s courage and vulnerability and perseverance and unselfishness that came to the fore. Continue reading