Epic, sad, poignant and magnificently realized ; 'We Are Not Ourselves' certainly delivers as a book longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. Apparently it took ten years to write; it justifies the effort with a narrative which spans five decades. It is wonderfully written and ceaselessly engaging. At over 600 pages, it could be easy to feel overwhelmed by its sprawling narrative, its intricate portrait of family life and its study of a degenerative disease. But the characters are memorable and lovable; you invest your time in them. It is humble and compassionate in its exploration of family, memory, the American Dream and the limits of human ambition and knowledge. Without being overly sentimental, it is powerfully moving and emotionally credible.
A daughter of hard-drinking Irish immigrants in a rough area of New York, Eileen Leary dreams of having more. She wants a bigger house, a better job and a happy family. She marries a young scientist and everything seems to be going in the direction she desires, until her husband, Ed, is diagnosed with a condition which will change their lives forever...
I don't want to spoil the story by writing here what illness Ed suffers. But to suffice to say Thomas brilliantly details the slow, debilitating nature of Ed's disease with tenderness, realism and great understanding. Eileen is such a well-realized character. I felt that there could have been other books written about her; she just leaps from the page. We grow up with her, we share her pain, her ambitions, her frustrations, her struggles with Ed's illness. And this is what makes it such a wonderful read. As one review put it: 'It's all here; how we live, how we love, how we die, how we carry on... It's humbling and heartening to read a book this good.' I cannot help but agree and can find no other superlatives to express just how much I enjoyed 'We Are Not Ourselves.'
It is a huge book but it has a huge heart. Take your time and invest in its achievement. An amazing debut novel!