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)

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

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment