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We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves

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Sarah Broadhurst's view...

The life of Eileen Tumulty from 1951 to 2011, starting when she is 9 and from her point of view. In her mid-forties her son Connell becomes a teenager and we see how he feels too. Round the middle of this 620-page book Eileen’s 51-year old husband, Ed, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and from then on the disease seizes control of the story. Financial difficulties arise as he has to give up work and extra help is needed in the house. As Ed’s health declines so Connell’s story grows. Dividing into two parts, post and pre-diagnosis, this initially paints Eileen as a very self-centred, materialistic person, later we admire her compassion, tenacity and strength of character. An excellent reading group book for it will provoke much debate on Alzheimer’s, a patient’s decline and the financial impact on relatives.

If you like Matthew Thomas you might also like to read books by John Irving, Jonathan Franzen and Chad Harbach.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

  • Christine Waddington - 'This is Eileen`s story. It demands your complete attention and concentration and it will enthral you. It is an epic read.' Read full review >
  • Julie Bertschin - 'A sensitive and moving portrayal of a family dealing with the onset of early Alzheimer’s, this is a tender and emotive story that wraps you up and carries you along. Wonderful.' Read full review >
  • Glenda Worth - 'A brilliant insight into the life of someone with Alzheimer’s disease and living with someone who has this dreadful curse...Thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel.' Read full review >
  • Sarah Musk - 'A dark story but at the same time strangely uplifting.  Eileen Leary becomes a tough fighter in life when her clever husband becomes stricken down in middle age.' Read full review >
  • Diane Hinchley - 'Very well written and a joy to read - a book you won't be able to put down until the last page has been read.'   Read full review >
  • Beth Winsor - 'This is a huge doorstop of a book, with a rather unencouraging blurb about the story of a woman's life. I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did.' Read full review >


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

LONGLISTED FOR THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD A stunning, heartbreaking debut - 'We Are Not Ourselves' is both the intimate story of a family and an epic of the American Century. Raised in the 1940s in the mostly Irish neighbourhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, by an alcoholic mother and a union-wage father, Eileen yearns for more from an early age. Driven by this longing, she places her stock and love in a handsome young scientist and with him begins a family. Once her childhood neighbourhood begins to slip below her standards, she pushes against her husband's reluctance to find a home elsewhere. When it becomes clear that his reticence is part of a deeper, more incomprehensible psychological shift, the bricks of the life she thought she was building begin to crumble, and she and her son are left to grapple with a husband and a father who is, beyond their control, fading away. In this heartbreaking debut, Thomas masterfully paints the sprawling portrait of a family that heroically weathers an extraordinary storm. It is wise to the ways in which people happen, over time and with each other.


'Like John Updike in the Rabbit series Thomas concentrates on the lives of ordinary Americans ... Thomas's treatment of Ed Leary's Alzheimer's is extraordinary ... The novel's account of this illness and its terrible progress through a life is unsparing, but never cold or removed ... Intensely moving ... Thomas has quarried deep to discover emotional truth and a form and language in which to express it. 'We Are Not Ourselves'took 10 years to write, and justifies every one of them'
Helen Dunmore, Guardian

'Matthew Thomas's ambitious first novel presents the life of one woman from cradle to late middle-age, and the changing backdrop of New York. Terrific'
The Times

'An honest, intimate family story with the power to rock you to your core ... Wrenchingly credible ... Wonderfully wrought ... A rich, sprawling book ... One of the frankest novels ever written about love between a caregiver and a person with a degenerative disease ... Thomas spares nothing and still makes it clear how deeply in love these soul mates are ... [It] will reduce anyone who ever had a parent to helpless tears.'
New York Times

'Unflinching and heartbreaking ... The pain leaps from the page but so too does the love ... epic in scale, subject and compassion ... If Matthew Thomas writes nothing else, 'We Are Not Ourselves' will stand as a magnificent achievement.' 5* review, Sunday Express

About the Author

Matthew Thomas

Matthew Thomas has a BA in English from the University of Chicago, an MA in Fiction from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied under Alice McDermott and Steve Dixon, and an MFA in Fiction from UC-Irvine, where he studied with Geoffrey Wolff and Jim Shephard. He has been working on 'We Are Not Ourselves' more or less exclusively for a decade. Briefly at the end of the last century, he was a reporter for the New York Observer.

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Book Info

Publication date

5th March 2015


Matthew Thomas

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Fourth Estate Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


640 pages


Family Drama
Literary Fiction
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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