Two Books which will stay with me.

 

lifetime passionI have read two extraordinarily debut novels this Christmas. You know the kind – they make one wonder why anyone would bother trying to write!:(

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey and The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

Both explore with compassionate and delicate understanding the disintegration of minds. Both deal with past memories, loss and grief. However there could not be such disparate characters; the first deals with dementia and the second with schizophrenia. Elizabeth is Missing has an 82 year old woman as a very unreliable narrator and in The Shock of the Fall the narrator is a young man.

Both protagonists are trying to negotiate the alien world that their mental illness has created. How they achieve this and manage a reasonable outcome for themselves is told through muddle, confusion, anger, depression, frustration, medication and a darkish sense of humour which bubbles through. Leavening what could be beyond bearing.

Elizabeth Is Missing

In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, who she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth? (Goodreads)

Maud struggles to remember the everyday, lives by the uncertain aid of written notes which spill from pockets and bags. They are out of order and so is she. The fixation which drives her to seek answers and drives her daughter, her carer, Elizabeth’s brother and the police to distraction is the idea that her friend is missing, she will brook no denial. But in the way of things although the present is a jigsaw of mainly missing pieces her memory of childhood is sharp, clear, full of distinct detail and troubled.

The Shock of the FallI’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’                                                                                  
    There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.  (Goodreads)

Whereas I know quite a bit about dementia and associated complaints; have helped and assisted various elderly relative and friends in my life time; I know nothing at all about schizophrenia but Nathan Filer sounds authentic and he has been a mental health nurse. I found the account as believable as I did the account of Maud’s mental decline.

Mathew’s narration wanders, backtracks and  although is sometimes vague it is mostly sharp and observant. He is plagued, also, by a childhood memory, when his brother died. We know about this within the first few pages,he also sees and converses with his brother. Matthew is sometimes controlled by his drugs or deliberately refusing to take medication. He writes his account in various places and in different mental states.

Neither subject is what one immediately thinks of as a ‘good read’ however I would recommend both of these as such. Both books will remain with me for a long time.

I hope to read more of both authors in the future.

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