‘Witty and engaging’ – Mimi by Lucy Ellman

mleWe meet Harrison Hanafan, New York plastic surgeon on Christmas Eve as he walks down Madison Avenue reading an article about Philip Roth. By our second paragraph, he has slipped on the ice, ‘…transplanting myself in an instant from the realm of the lofty, vertical and intellectual to that of the lowly and prostrate’. He’s rescued by ‘…a plump middle-aged gal with brown eyes, and brown curls poking out of her Eskimo hood…’. This is our, and Hanafan’s, heroine, the Mimi of the book’s title.

It is some time before Hanafan and we meet Mimi again. Before that point, we are introduced to Hanafan’s recently dumped ex-girlfriend Gertrude:

‘Gertrude was like one of those boa constrictors, those beautiful creatures people in Florida keep as pets until the thing gets too big and uncontrollable – whereupon they let it loose outside to terrorize the neighbourhood, until some jerk finally comes along and shoots it. The snake was set up for a fall from the start!’

It’s no surprise then that Hanafan has a huge lists of Gertrude’s failings which he reveals to us at length. We’re also shown Hanafan’s apartment in which he stores his CDs and DVDs in a complex filing system; his ‘List of Melancholy’ which grows ever longer as the novel progresses, and we get to eavesdrop on his conversations with his sister, Bee, an artist who has moved to Canterbury in England in order to take up an artist-in-residence post.

The plot moves on when Hanafan receives an invitation from his old school to speak at the current students’ upcoming graduation ceremony. Aware that public speaking is not his forte:

‘I displayed all the usual symptoms of stage fright: cold sweats, hot sweats, trembling nausea, shortness of breath, abdominal cramps, coughing fits, hiccups, stuttering, fidgeting, corpsing, inexplicably rushing, forgetting what I was supposed to say altogether, and bouts of slapstick: I once dropped a whole cup of coffee on the person next to me as I got up to speak (about scalding marks).’

he looks in the Yellow Pages for an expert coach and ‘…finally settled on a guy called M.Z. Fortune…’. M.Z. Fortune turns out to be a she – the same she that rescued Hanafan on Christmas Eve – Mimi. While he prepares (or not) for his speech, they become lovers – sex being Mimi’s big passion (pardon the pun) alongside feminism, on which she has much to say.

Now you’re either desperate to read this book or have been put off altogether by the ‘f’ word. But I urge you not to be. Ellmann has her tongue firmly in her cheek – this is a very funny book – and her writing is fabulously playful.

Any Cop?: Ellman’s style is witty and engaging and Hanafan’s story is an interesting one.

Naomi Frisby


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