This is a review of the book Mimi, which tells the story of the relationship between Mimi and Harrison, two very different New Yorkers whose lives become irreparably intertwined.
The book is notable at first because it was written by a woman, but is told in first person from Harrison’s point of view. This isn’t hugely unusual, but I always find that writing from the perspective of the opposite gender certainly has its own challenges. That said, the author does a magnificent job of getting into the head of a middle aged man and showing us his catharses.
The characters in the book are also remarkably interesting. Mimi is larger than life and makes no apologies for it; Harrison is surprisingly pliable (or perhaps quite so not surprisingly, given his profession is plastic surgery and he therefore makes a living out of plying others); Harrison’s sister Bee is forthright and an excellent foil for him; Bubbles the cat is luxuriant and indulged; the ex-girlfriend Gertrude is ridiculous. Even the city of New York is almost a character in this tale, such is its presence in the narrative – which, again, surprised me given that the author’s biography has her residences in Illinois and England. All told it provides for a fascinating story of how these characters clash, interact and generally behave.
That being said, the novel is not without flaws. I wondered at the copious amounts of backstory in the first third of it; sure, some of it helps ground the characters (particularly Harrison) but much of it seemed unnecessary. It was almost like any random thought from the protagonist would be enough to propel the reader into ten or so pages of historical content which had little bearing on the story at hand. Much of it makes more sense once you reach the story’s conclusion, but even so I felt it could have been cut substantially and yet still had the same impact. This perhaps also had a bearing on my thought in the early chapters that a book supposed to be about the character Mimi had pretty much no appearances from her for a very long time. (It seems an easy enough equation: less backstory = more Mimi.) Once she appeared for good, of course, she was rarely absent from the page, whether in presence or thought, but it did feel like it took a longer time than usual to get there.
My other comment is more a musing than anything – when did the C word become so acceptable? When I was growing up it was almost taboo, and now every third book seems to have it in abundance. Sometimes I feel it’s just used for shock value, other times it’s making a political statement – but maybe I’m just getting old and prudish, and in general society it doesn’t have the impact it used to have. In any case it takes some getting used to, seeing it in print so regularly, and this book was no exception. I admit it was within character for Harrison to use it, but I still raised my eyebrows.
Finally, I would like to say that Mimi ends up a very different book from how it started. I dare say this is deliberate, and showcases Harrison’s changing thought processes admirably, but what started pretty much as a love story becomes very political by the end. Naturally Mimi herself has had a large role in this change, and therefore it is quite appropriate that the book is named after her, but again it took me by surprise a little. I suppose, in the end, it’s about the effect love has on a person, for better or worse, even when the beloved is not present. And it’s a journey of self discovery – a journey from the fake to the real, in many ways – by a man who wasn’t all bad to start with, but who has an epiphany which affects thousands of others.
All in all, Mimi is a well-told story with a number of unexpected twists and turns. Its characters are real, warts and all, and almost compel you to keep reading by their sheer vivacity. If you would like to read a craftily-constructed tale which explores people’s deepest insecurities and celebrates matriarchal solutions, then this is definitely a book for you.