Wednesday, 15 April 2015

An Easter Eggshibition and The Year in Books: April

Sorry about the bad pun.  A quick post before our short break to Belguim and Holland.  When we were in Northern Ireland we visited this Easter Egg exhibition in First Lisburn Presbyterian Church.  Local businesses had produced these contributions to the display which aimed to encouragepeople to visit the newly-refurbished church.   We went along with my sisters and the children and my daughter took these pictures which I thought I would share.  Really impressive and inventive display.

And now another late post for Laura's lovely Year in Books link up.  This month I have been reading Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, a best-selling first book by an unknown author.  I'm slightly curious about how she, a 20-something student,  managed to be in a position where she was given a huge advance for a book and had nine publishers competing for it. How did she get their attention in the first place, when many successful authors, including J K Rowling, are rejected at first?  Did someone spot her when she was doing the Creative Writing MA at UEA?

What is different about this book is that she gets into the head of Maud, her central character, who has dementia, and writes a convincing account of life and events from her point of view.  My mother-in-law had dementia in her final years and much of Maud's behaviour is familiar: leaving the gas on; going out at odd times; attempts to continue with routine activities like cooking and shopping but getting in a muddle about it.  My aunt, who suffered from dementia, once tried to make a ham sandwich for her son with the blood-soaked absorbent paper at the bottom of a plastic supermarket meat tray: she still saw it as her job to feed her family even after the roles had reversed.

What Healey does so well is to show that for Maud, her actions, which frustrate and baffle others, are actually entirely logical in her mind.  She confuses past and present all the time. Her friend Elizabeth is 'missing'. She's actually in hospital, but Maud, who is in English Lit teaching terms, an 'unreliable narrator' never grasps this. Maud confuses the fact that Elizabeth is missing with the disappearance of her sister Sukey in the post-war years, an event that Maud is able to remember in vivid detail.  This means that we, as readers, can understand why Maud says something about Elizabeth which seems ridiculous to her daughter, as we know she is referring to Sukey.  What is also well observed is the reaction of her daughter Helen: Maud notices her eye-rolling and her desire to get away. This reminds me so much about how we were with my mother-in-law and I feel ashamed.  It seems that Healey drew on her own family's experience with her grandmother to write the book.  It must be slightly uncomfortable reading for her mother, if Helen is based on her.

I discussed this novel at my bookclub and one member, who works with dementia patients, says it is a very accurate portrayal of the condition.  And that is what it is - very well written and original book. Did I enjoy it? Yes, though I preferred the next one I read more Colm Toibin's Nora Webster.  But more of that another time.

My next book was recommended to me by Annet, the teacher I stayed with in the Netherlands.  She gave me a battered paperback school copy.  It's The Music of Chance by Paul Auster.


  1. Thanks for popping over and saying hello! And I see by your profile that you are also in the North West so next time there is a get together you'll have to join us - it's such good fun! Until then it's nice to meet you over here x Jane

  2. Can't believe we were so close but didn't meet! Next time :)
    I'm currently reading Elizabeth is Missing and I agree wholeheartedly with you - it's a very insightful read. I'm amazed that the author is so young....certainly seemed like it had been written by someone older. Our latest book club read is 'The Woman On The Train' - apparently very compelling - though I'm not starting it until Elizabeth is finished! Ax

  3. I really enjoyed Elizabeth is missing, it went under my skin. I didn't know the background about the author, this is quite interesting, too. Maybe she sent off extracts of her draft to publishers? Suffering from dementia is one of my many worries... I'll keep the 'unreliable narrator' term in mind for the remainder of my English course. Love the egg head btw! xx

  4. Glad you enjoyed the book. The egg church congregation is fantastic isn't it! xx

    1. My sister tells me that she can spot some people she knows in the egg congregation - the one in the glasses playing guitar is her business partner. Brilliant and it must have taken ages.

  5. The egg exhibits are so original and creative! I haven't read Elizabeth is Missing, though I have read quite a lot about it. Having read Still Alice a couple of years back (which was amazing) I don't think I could put myself through another 'dementia' book! Enjoy your holiday! (Like the fresh new look of your blog too!) X

  6. That looks like a great eggshibition! I didn't know it was on and I live about 20 miles from Lisburn. It looks similar to the Christmas tree exhibitions that have been happening a lot over the past few years.