Bloomsbury Circus, £12.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Mimi, By Lucy Ellmann

A dark-hued but uplifting tale leads to a life beyond the cult of cosmetic enhancement

Lucy Ellmann's first three novels - Sweet Desserts, Varying Degrees of Hopelessness and Man or Mango - were smart, funny, brimming with originality, awfully sad and festive in the extreme. Sex was revered, often seeming like the novels' hero. Grief was shown in all its squalor and wildness.

Get money off this book at the Independent's book shop

Rejection and abandonment were not shied away from, to put it mildly, but joy was always communicated through Ellmann's vivid intelligence, her tendency to celebrate things and ingenious use of language. Little details have stayed with me: a man's rum collection of grapefruit spoons that seemed to say so much about him; a father comforting his young daughter by regaling her with the most painful moments from his own childhood and making everything a million times worse.

Dot in the Universe and Doctors and Nurses, though likeable, contained so many soaring flights of fancy that they sometimes left this reader rubbing her head at the check-in desk. Mimi is more focused: it has a trajectory, it has a thesis, it has a hero.

New Yorker Harrison Hanafan is a plastic surgeon, a baffled and buffeted professional who reminded me a little of the botanist uncle in Saul Bellow's best novel More Die of Heartbreak. He thinks of himself as sensuous. He has a certain moral energy. Yet he is hurt, vulnerable and afraid. The book opens as his romance with the frightening Gertrude has ground to a halt and he sprains his ankle, slipping on ice one Manhattan Christmas Eve.

Hanafan's enforced withdrawal from the world means he is free to go to town on his list-making habit. He makes Whitman-esque lists of everything: of ideas for inventions, of cures, and of things that make him melancholy, which include artist-in-residence posts, accordions and the microwave's hollow ping.

Hanafan has good reason to be melancholy for he inhabits a world where sexual violence and sharp practices are rife. An average day at his surgery sees a toddler who has been taught by her father to make sexual advances and women raped by loved-ones who have eaten their feelings and seek liposuction to conceal this development. There are girls knifed by their dumped boyfriends; women gifting their vicious husbands with new bosoms for Christmas. Even the luckier or more comfortable-in-their-skin female patients loathe themselves "according to the requirements of the era". Even ducks in the park are raped in front of children and elderly.

When the outspoken and overwhelming Mimi comes into his life, Hanafan begins to question everything. He is cut up about his former life. He realises how much he loves his sculptor sister, re-evaluates his parents' marriage, reframes a childhood disaster, and falls in love with a capital L. He also comes to see his profession as ignoble: "Sure I could turn a guy's crows feet into hummingbird talons, but there's no getting rid of his deep soul ache is there?" But to misquote Jimminy Cricket, what does a cosmetic surgeon want with a conscience?

Well, Hanafan, under Mimi's tutelage, and following a bereavement, becomes an evangelical feminist! His thesis - women, we owe them everything, all our money, all our love – causes no small number of waves. Ellmann demands a lot of indulgences from her readers. Many events in Mimi are – what shall I say - far-fetched? If this book is even darker and sadder than Ellmann's previous works it is perhaps because the world it portrays is so sick at heart. Yet Mimi is ringing with love and rage and hope. Ellmann's best sentences are so springy and rhythmic, they make you think of a Slinky coursing down the sweet spot of a staircase, happy as Larry.

Susie Boyt's latest novel is 'The Small Hours' (Virago)

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam