A straightforward synopsis of Nobody is Ever Missing would read like this: a woman leaves her job and husband (and entire life) in Manhattan and buys a one-way ticket to New Zealand to go hitchhiking, without telling anyone.
Sounds a little bit like Gone Girl, doesn’t it?
Except Nobody is Ever Missing sings and sways mellow with a touching poetic beat – it’s as lyrical as our protagonist’s name, Elyria.
We are told from the beginning that Elyria has trouble expressing her thoughts and doesn’t seem to know herself at all (and is as such a very unreliable narrator). She is frustrated by life and suffers from being driven by her inner ‘wildebeest’: ‘I don’t know what redeems people, what keeps people in the sense-making part of being a human instead of the senseless, the unwell, the wildebeests that everyone has – because we all have them and there is a part of every human brain that just can’t bear and be, can’t sit up straight, can’t look you in the eye, can’t sit through time ticking, can’t eat a sandwich off a plate, can’t read the newspaper…’. It is worrying for us, then, as readers and witnesses to this short segment of her life that the story plays out, when we learn of her plans to travel as she explains that: ‘I can never manage to reject anyone’s offer of anything; this was one of the only things about myself of which I was certain.’ She wants to ‘divorce my own history.’
We are gradually told of the history that she is so keen to shed: her adopted sister committed suicide while working as an academic at university; her mother has an alcohol problem; she has a cold and complicated relationship with her husband; her father is a plastic surgeon ‘in Puerto Rico doing cheap boob jobs’. As she explores New Zealand (somewhat haphazardly – with the vague aim to reach a poet she met once), she recalls moments from her past. But, for Elyria, these memories are ‘foggy, half-ruined slide shows, the images unfocused, a fleshy thumb obscuring some key thing or person’.
Indeed, this unreliable narration is the spangling rhizome that runs throughout the book and sparks an gripping uneasiness. It feels like we’re stroking velvet against the grain as there is a tantalising chasm between us and her world, and therefore places us in a similar position to Elyria with her thoughts (made all the stranger when we realise that we are in the realms of her mind for most of the book… so we’ve spanned the globe, but we’re kept in her head): ‘I wondered if maybe I hadn’t imagined my husband telling me this but maybe he’d really said it’; ‘I knew (or I thought I knew)’; we are warned that her mind ‘translates life in a strange way’; she confesses that ‘I am not even certain that this moment ever happened in real life.’ She has ‘unnamable feelings and unnameable secrets’ all of which are ‘un-understandable’.
It’s this ever-imaginative sentiment that propels the plot, filled with long and winding sentences and tense tangential spiel that makes the book so brilliant. I absolutely loved it. If you enjoyed Dept. of Speculation, you’ll be thrilled by Nobody is Ever Missing.
‘Nobody is Ever Missing’ by Catherine Lacey was published in paperback in December 2015, published by Granta.