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Finding Elizabeth: Construing memory in Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

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Abstract

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey was published in 2014 and won the Costa Award for best first novel. Both humorous and sad, it has been categorised as literary fiction, detective fiction and a psychological thriller, and is thus a “hybrid” genre novel that is difficult to categorise neatly. The novel’s chief protagonist and narrator is Maud, who has dementia. As a narrator Maud is extremely unreliable and often forgets facts and events even as they are unfolding around her. Maud’s memories, however, have a much higher degree of specificity than her present day narratives: they are richer, more detailed, and therefore much more reliable, than the narrative of her current life. Consequently, the novel is characterised by a stylistic contrast between the vague and the specific, the remembered and the forgotten. In order to investigate this contrast, this paper argues that a stylistic account of Cognitive Grammar can shed further light on how Maud’s cognitive habits are represented in the novel, and are represented in the novel, and how these in turn impact upon text-world representation. The analysis draws upon Cognitive Grammar’s construal processes, in particular, to explore the fictive illustration of mind style – and of memory – in this literary context. Finally, this paper considers how one of the particular experiences of reading the narrative is dependent on the “layered construal” prevalent in the text, whereby a reader’s experience of the fictional world is continually contrasted with that of the narrator.

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Published Online: 2017-10-28
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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