Do you ever pick up a book and thing; WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ? If you like those style of reviews you’re in for a treat because I’m about to attempt to review a book I’m still not a hundred percent sure I understood. Which could lead to a whole lot of confusion. But let’s give it a go – it’s a Thursday after all.
Eloise is the sad, mad, and hermetic heroine at the center of Lucy Ellmann’s hilarious new novel. A middle-aged cellist who hides herself away in a tiny British cottage, she blames the world for its lack of love, and similarly despises it for its anger. It is not until her beloved cello is stolen–and her former lover, an American poet named George, returns–that she is finally drawn out from her shell. Man or Mango? offers a witty, original take on the age-old question: Is love worth the hassle?
I think we’ll take this review step by step; the book follows the life of Eloise who is a unmarried British woman who is nursing a very fragile and broken heart. After inheriting her father’s estate, she creates a hermit style existence inside a quaint Tudor cottage where she decides to hide from the world. Inside this hermitage she creates an existence that mirrors her fathers neglected bottle collection, “in undisciplined retirement, loveless and liquidless.” She avoids any interaction with others and has specific times of recovery for each interaction, innocent glance her way (ten minutes) verbal contact (hours) having that verbal contact rejected by a friend after a social event (days.) Surrounded by her gang of feral cats Eloise attempts not to think about the man that broke her heart.
Enter George, an American who has moved to England to write an epic poem on Ice Hockey (are you still with me?) He has left his ex-wife in Massachusetts to come to the land of the great poets and perhaps a sneaky second chance with Eloise the woman he fell for whilst he was still married. He gets a ‘gig’ as a writer-in-residence at the London University but spends a hell of a lot of the time warbling about getting Eloise back and moaning about British sensibilities. He’s also a little obsessed with the notebook of one of his students that showed a little promise but was killed in an accident the night that he yelled at her for not attending one of his classes. This notebook is stuffed with story ideas and character creations. George seeks solace in the notebook and tries to work out how badly he hurt Eloise. As the two move closer together lots of new characters start to intermingle in the story of Eloise and George and it all gets a lot more messy.
So that’s the background of the book that took a lot longer than I thought it would; the way the book gets a little surreal is the writing style. Ellman used lists, obsessive letters to other characters (and the council as Eloise attempts to shut everyone out of her hermit style life.) insect-life descriptions, layered realities, flash backs and flash forwards. The writing style has a very surreal feel also – nothing is said how you would expect it to be said and it creates a really intriguing style but throughout it can be a little alienating. I’m going to insert some quotes that might help to explain this;
“Unable to make babies, they make bombs instead. Men menstruate by shedding other people’s blood.”
“She stood eating soup in her overgrown garden, looking up at stars she could not name.”
Passages in the writing (for example the last quote) can be incredibly beautiful but at times the narrative left me a little lost. I felt like I was reading something really interesting but I couldn’t quite grasp it. I couldn’t quite get there.
Despite this the characters that are told are really brilliantly written; we don’t get a full picture of them but by using their writing styles (seen in the lists and the letter etc) we get a wide view into the characters and their personalities. The ending is ironic but if you’ve read the start of the book you wouldn’t expect anything else.
So how did I feel? It’s really an adventure; an adventure into the lives of two completely different characters that are pretty much made for each other but are struggling with 10385839959 other things it becomes a big ole mess. I book brilliant to pick apart and devour but definitely not easy.
Ps. This quote probably sums up my review in one line; “Man or Mango is a joy to read for anyone wanting to go a step beyond the obvious.”