A feminist love story that’s sweet, witty and a tad preachy.
Lucy Ellmann pulls off a coup. A woman who writes a love story with a (spoiler alert) happy ending has to watch her back; for, any minute, the ‘chick lit’ tag might come a-calling. Mimi is a satire with an implausible premise that keeps the reader grounded with honesty that almost seems violent.
The novel begins with plastic surgeon Harrison Hanafan (the narrator) taking a fall and breaking his leg on Christmas Eve. Confined to his apartment with an injured kitten (also with a limp), which he finds on the streets, he turns to making lists (oh boy, does he make lists!) of melancholic things, of things that make his last girlfriend Gertrude unbearable, and watches Bette Davis movies. The book is a first-person account of Harrison’s life from that fateful eve when Mimi helps him out after a fall and disappears, only to appear again (on Groundhog Day, which leads one to wonder if it is a hat tip to the hilarious Bill Murray film) and again, until the two delightful middle-aged protagonists are caught in a whirlwind adult enviable romance. What’s a great love story without a few hiccups?
There are several little details that make Mimi charming and several others that make it seem really tedious. The ones worth mentioning are the chapter titles that signal the story’s progress — Christmas Eve, 2010, New Year’s Day, The Ides of March, The First Day of Spring… Catastrobury (when he travels to Canterbury)… The book also pays rich tribute to Angela Banner’s ‘Ant and Bee’ children’s stories. The satirical names of places — like the Museum of Annoying Folksiness and the Town of Virtue and Chewing Gum add to the quirky, almost mythical, quality. As for the tediousness, we know we are inside Harrison’s head but must we know every little detail? There are just way too many of them, just like the exclamatory marks. Why must everyone exclaim?
Mimi has its serious moments too that raise its status from being a mere love story to a serious contemplation on rapes, molestation and the damage adults are capable of doing to children and why parenthood must be entered into only after one has exercised caution.
The book, although titled Mimi, is more about the narrator’s quest for her than about Mimi herself, who makes fewer appearances than expected. But when she’s there, it’s like a party. It offers a peek at the world through the eyes of an earthy feminist, one who believes (convincingly) that we would all live in a much better place if women could rule. Sample this: towards the end , Mimi helps Harrison deliver a kooky speech (she is a corporate self-help guru) asking high school graduates to join him on his ‘Odalisque Revolution’ (where men give all their money to women. No questions asked!) after having quit his practice and also inspires him to start work on things that really matter: a device that will help women deal with menopausal hot flashes without any medicines. Now if that’s not biting satire, what is?