Book Review: Elly by Maike Wetzel

Elly (Translated from German by Lyn Marven)

About the Book:

A missing child is a nightmare for any family. But what happens when they come back?

Eleven-year-old Elly is missing. After an extensive police search she is presumed dead, and her family must learn to live with a gaping hole in their lives. Then, four years later, she reappears. But soon her parents and sister are plagued by doubts. Is this stranger really the same little girl who went missing? And if not, who is she?

Elly is a gripping tale of grief, longing, and doubt, which takes every parent’s greatest fear and lets it play out to an emotionally powerful, memorable climax. It is a literary novel with all the best qualities of a thriller.

My Thoughts:

Every family’s worst nightmare forms the basis of this story: the disappearance of a child. Eleven-year-old Elly rides to judo one afternoon, a route she regularly follows, but she never arrives. The last ever sighting of her is in the middle of the road very close to her destination, picking up her sports bag which had come loose from her bike rack and fallen into the busy street. Her bike is left abandoned in the gutter.

‘There are no more first moments. When your child disappears, everything stops.’

Elly is a portrait of a family in crisis: grief, anger, disbelief, and despair are the emotions most prevalent within this family, and yet, hope is not ever fully extinguished. The way the novel begins is somewhat odd when considered in isolation, however, further in, we see the context for this beginning and it provides an interesting point for contemplation on how one person’s view of a situation can differ vastly from another’s. It’s also an intimate look at how trauma can unhinge a person’s normal state of reasoning.

‘Today I know that torture is a notion that can keep on multiplying infinitely.’

The majority of this novel is weighted in sadness. The family’s loss is profound and far reaching. Then Elly is returned to them, four years after her disappearance, altered in more ways than expected. The novel takes a disturbing turn then, leading the reader to question how well we really know our own child. Could we recognise them, for sure, if we had not seen them for four years across that transition from child to teen, particularly if they had been subject to starvation and other forms of mistreatment? Or would hope cloud our vision and lead us to see what we want to see without pause for question?

This novel offers resolution in the end, of a sorts, which I appreciated, although I’d really have liked more depth right the way through. There is little dialogue and I felt as though I was only being given the surface of the story. The rotation of the first-person narration between each of the characters possibly contributed to this as well. Their ‘voices’ were all a little too similar. This is the author’s first novel, she has previously written short stories, and I feel as though this may have influenced the novel in terms of the execution and brevity. All in all though, it is a gripping read that ends on a thought provoking and unsettling note. I think this would make a terrific film. It has a chilling atmosphere to it that would amount to compulsive viewing. Recommended reading and an ideal one for book clubs.


Thanks is extended to Scribe for providing me with a review copy of Elly.

About the Author:

Maike Wetzel was born in 1974 and works as a writer and screenwriter in Berlin. She studied at the Munich Film School and in the UK. The manuscript of her first novel, Elly, won the Robert Gernhardt Prize and the Martha Saalfeld Prize. Maike’s short stories have been translated into numerous languages and received multiple awards. Her collection Long Days was published by Comma Press in 2008, translated by Lyn Marven.

About the Translator:

Lyn Marven is a translator from German specialising in contemporary literature, women’s writing, and short stories. Her previous translations include Maike Wetzel, Long Days (Comma Press, 2008), Berlin Tales (OUP, 2009), and Larissa Boehning, Swallow Summer (Comma Press, 2016). Lyn is Senior Lecturer in German at the University of Liverpool, researching contemporary literature in German, with a particular interest in Berlin literature.

Published by Scribe
Released 28th April 2020

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Elly by Maike Wetzel

  1. I think that something like this was made into a BBC series: I watched it last year on iView. A girl had been abducted, and the series was about the family’s adjustment and the police trying to deal with it all. I’m sorry, I can’t remember its name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, interesting that you mention this because I was telling my kids about this book (the spoiler version) and my son then said it sounded a lot like this documentary he’d watched online about missing teens returning but not being who you think they are.


    • I’m very interested in books / shows / movies about missing children returning and can help shed a little light on the shows/movies you’re trying to recall here.

      The documentary based on the true story of the missing boy Nicholas Barclay is called The Imposter. It’s about the boy who was impersonating Barclay and managed to fool the parents. It was also made into a movie with the same name and is a well known case.

      The TV series about the missing girl returning was called The OA.

      I’ve read a couple of books with this theme and it never goes where/how I want it to. Doesn’t sound like this one will either.

      Liked by 1 person

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