Title: We Are Not Ourselves
Author: Matthew Thomas
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project
Date of Publication: 28 August 2014
Number of Pages: 620
Rating: 2 stars DNF at 24%
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Summary: Raised in the 1940s in the mostly Irish neighbourhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, by an alcoholic mother and a union-wage father, Eileen yearns for more from an early age. Driven by this longing, she places her stock and love in a handsome young scientist and with him begins a family. Once her childhood neighbourhood begins to slip below her standards, she pushes against her husband’s reluctance to find a home elsewhere. When it becomes clear that his reticence is part of a deeper, more incomprehensible psychological shift, the bricks of the life she thought she was building begin to crumble, and she and her son are left to grapple with a husband and a father who is, beyond their control, fading away. [Goodreads]
Review: Opening preface – a boy murders a frog and his father walks off leaving him alone for hours(?).
Eileen gets out of dancing class early to watch her father hold court at his favourite watering hole. Queue long sections on alcohol and drunkenness and admissions to AA that raise little emotion. It’s like watching through the window.
Eileen goes to nursing school. Surprising because she is an incredibly unsympathetic character with stunted emotions and seemingly little sympathy.
Eileen meets Ed.
Eileen courts Ed.
Ed is good at tennis and is smart and doesn’t really talk about himself in any great detail. Ed, like Eileen, is one dimensional.
Eileen marries Ed and becomes disenchanted with her lot.
The prose is third person and non-descript. There is no glamour to the stylistic elements. No witty turn of phrase that makes you think wow. There was one cluster of words that sat nicely outside the rest of the sentence but they can’t have been overly remarkable as I don’t remember them. A lot of words and concepts and opportunities for plot development have been crammed into this 13% but Thomas seems disinclined to have his readers know his characters. Plus, my kindle says 14 plus hours to finish so this will be a massive slog to finish as at the moment I’m not really caring for the characters. Great Gatsby this wants to be but a Great Gatsby it is not.
It is disheartening to grab 30 minutes to read only to gain 3%. By 16% there has been a birth, a couple of deaths, some new furniture and some pathetically boring sex scenes that could have been cut out – these scenes are as erotic as watching paint dry. Actually, that’s a pretty good summation of the book so far. Other reviewers are saying “stick with it” the pace is a deceit that will make sense at the end and I really hope it does but at the same time, I’m not sure I want to devote the time to it. Some reviewers are calling this a “character driven” novel but really, for this to be character driven, there would have to be strong, well formed, well written characters and sadly, there isn’t anything like that in this book.
In all honesty, I am grateful for the spoilers that other reviewers have included because it means I know what happens in the end and it means I don’t need to read for another 12 hours to find the answer. At 24% I have had to admit defeat because I just cannot see a way to continue. I don’t think I would read more work by Thomas.