Matthew Thomas - We Are Not Ourselves (3 stars)

A patchy period narrative following the immigrant American Dream

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Mathew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves

(Fourth Estate)

Eileen Tumulty, raised by hard-drinking Irish parents in 1940s New York, craves a different life. She manages to pursue a nursing career and marries Ed, a brilliant scientist, seeing in him an opportunity for a better life. But Ed isn’t as enamoured with the American dream as Eileen and soon she must revise her aspirations or risk losing everything.

Matthew Thomas’ debut opens with a brutal image of a young boy killing a frog, then swiftly introduces Eileen’s father, Mike, Irish immigrant and barstool philosopher. This section, though well drawn and full of energy, is short and too soon Eileen becomes the main focus and the narrative never fully recovers its pace. Thomas relies heavily on vignettes that, despite the book’s size, never feel like they cover enough ground.

Eileen is just not interesting enough to carry a whole novel; Ed on the other hand is fascinating, as are some of the minor characters. If Thomas had let them speak, then perhaps this sizeable novel would have satisfied its ambitions.

Out on 28 Aug.

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