Mimiby Lucy Ellman had me laughing from the first page. Not just little smiles, but snort-laughs. I’m all for Ellman’s brand of sarcastic humour. But it’s not all laughs. There’s a serious, thoughtful side to this book and whilst the feminist theme weaves through much of the story, Ellmann delivers a shocking plot twist midway through the book that reminds the reader this is no fluff.
Mimi is the story of a Manhattan romance. It’s Christmas Eve when Harrison Hanafan, an eminent plastic surgeon, slips on ice and sprains his ankle. A woman comes to his rescue, pulling him to his feet and putting him in a cab. Harrison recuperates with the aid of Franz Schubert, Bette Davis, his favourite childhood stories (Ant & Bee) and a foundling cat, Bubbles. All to soon it’s back to rhinoplasties, liposuction and a growing sense of dissatisfaction for Harrison. When asked to do the graduation speech at his old high school, Harrison accepts, despite the fact that public speaking scares him. He enlists the help of a public speaking coach and from there an unconventional love story unfolds.
Mimi has been hailed the ‘feminist novel of the century (so far)’. I can see that (well actually, it’s hard to miss) but I’m going to leave the dissection of the feminist manifesto described in Mimi to the professional book reviewers. Instead, I’m focusing on what I really enjoyed about this book – the creative writing.
I’ve come across a handful of books in my adult life that are written ‘creatively’. Of course, all books are inherently ‘creative’ but I’m talking about the use of format and form as a way of giving a story something extra. A prime example is Safron Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Anyone who has read that book will know exactly what I mean. So, to Mimi – Ellmann does it. Mimi includes lists, asides about Bach and cats, a bunch of comprehensive appendices (including recipes!), not to mention the use of the CAPS LOCK. But it’s the lists that I loved.
The lists are many and varied. From a list of Gertrude’s (Harrison’s ex-girlfriend) flaws –
“REASON NO.5 Embroidery. There ain’t world enough nor time to embroider cushions, especially ineptly. Gertrude adorns handkerchiefs with mottoes, sews garish flowers on pillowcases…. She also darns, and batiks without irony.
REASON NO. 224: Gertrude’s philosophy of que sera sera. Gertrude likes to come across all scatterbrained and laid-back, just some simple country gal who leaves things to chance. Like hell. I never saw a person take fewer chances. She doesn’t even take a chance on her kind of sun cream being available in the Hamptons… She never took a chance on me either (my loyalty or love), instead imprisoned me in bookings, duties, organizations, and five-year-plans: the box at the Met, wines that won’t mature for a decade…”
to the things he finds ‘melancholy’ –
“Liszt himself – such bombast, and for what?,…master’s degrees in highway lighting – the rushed minimal morning walks of a million Manhattan mutts – puppetry – pep talks…. shrimp-eating contests – unpredictable airfares… Bach’s solo cello suites…”
There’s a fabulous list of kitchen gadgets with detail of how and why each was acquired –
“A bread-maker, that continued kneading its dough long after the girl who gave it to me walked out for good. An electric nutmeg-grater that must have cost more than a lifetime’s supply of nutmegs… Gertrude’s five-hundred-buck coffee machine, that took up half my counter space and looked like it ought to be used for printing revolutionary pamphlets.”
and then, scattered throughout the story are Mimi’s thoughts on all sorts of things –
“Mimi on Cormac McCarthy: “He writes about cowboys and the apocalypse. Enough said.”
Mimi on jobs: “Work’s bad for you. It drives everybody nuts in the end! That’s why I went freelance. If I wanna stay in bed, I stay there.” (This wasn’t exactly true—despite her fantasy of flexibility, Mimi always seemed to have to email somebody or Xerox something, frustrating all my endeavors to keep my own workload down to a minimum in order to be with her!
Mimi on parenthood: “You share your genetic defects with somebody, and then they get your crappy furniture when you die? Some deal.” We were in total agreement on procreation: its unnecessariness.
Mimi on sports: “What good’s an Olympian to me?”
Mimi on the guy who claimed to have started an extramarital affair with a complete stranger, involuntarily, while sleepwalking as a result of taking an antidepressant: “Yeah, sure.”
Mimi on bras: “Tit prisons. Who decided tits have to be this stiff and high anyway? The UN?””
And lastly, random lists, carefully woven into the text. For example, Harrison’s thoughts on why it’s worth living – “…horses’ manes and clouds, Bach, Beethoven…Mist, mint, honey, and bourbon. Saffron and sage. Eggs and nests… Pomegranates, monkeys, movies, cilantro, and jam!”
Some readers will find Ellmann’s format tedious and annoying. I thought it was enchanting.
4/5 I’ll admit, I was hovering between a three and a four on this one. Three because it all finished a little too quickly and conclusively for me – did Harrison need a tad more melancholy on his life? Perhaps. But then there were the lists. The lists that made me laugh out loud… And then think… And then go back to read again… It really is creative writing at its very best.
It’s Christmas in New York. It’s freezing. It needs eggnog. I’m sure eggnog is one of those things that everyone has their own ‘secret recipe’ for (just like Harrison in the story) – I’ve just picked one that looks pretty. Eggnog is not a thing in Australia – probably because it’s always blisteringly hot on Christmas Day and a warm, milky egg drink is the LAST thing you want!
“My solution to Gertrude’s Xmas Xtravaganzas in the ensuing wearisome years was to put myself in charge of Eggnogg production, turning it into a great art and making the stuff so goddam strong I could usually achieve a nauseous stupor before Gertrude noticed what was going on, entitling me to private porch time… Gertrude’s invariable questions concerning: 1. The number of mixing bowls used. 2. The number of days the whole alchemical procedure entailed. 3. The proliferation of abandoned egg whites would have shaken her already precarious handle on domesticity and Rombaueresque frugality. No holding her back though on the Tiffany party-bags, was there?”