SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD
NOMINATED FOR THE FOLIO PRIZE
NAMED A NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES
A stunning, heartbreaking debut – ‘We Are Not Ourselves’ is both the intimate story of a family and an epic of the American Century.
The product of a stormy upbringing in an Irish Catholic enclave of New York City, Eileen craves stability. Coming of age in the early Sixties, she meets and marries a young scientist named Edmund Leary.
But while Eileen wants more for her family, Ed won’t give up teaching for a better-paid job. Inadvertently Eileen starts to climb her own career ladder in nursing. She pushes Ed into finding a new home, but it becomes clear that his resistance is part of a deeply troubling psychological shift.
In this masterful debut, Matthew Thomas paints a sprawling, profoundly sympathetic portrait of a family coping with slow-burning tragedy. ‘We Are Not Ourselves’ is a grand testament to our deepest hopes and most human frailties.
‘Extraordinary … Intensely moving … ‘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 … 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
‘The greatest Alzheimer’s novel yet … Visionary and challenging … Marvellous.’ New Yorker
‘A powerfully moving book.’ Chad Harbach
About the author
Matthew Thomas was born and raised in New York City. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he has an MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. His novel We Are Not Ourselves was shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, longlisted for both the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and named a New York Times Notable Book. He lives with his wife and twin children in New Jersey.
In his powerful and significant debut novel, Thomas masterfully evokes one woman's life in the context of a brilliantly observed Irish working-class milieu. Eileen Tumulty was born in the early '40s, the only child and dutiful caretaker of alcoholic parents. As a young woman, she hopes to leave her family's dingy apartment in Woodside, Queens, and move up the social ladder. Eileen falls in love with and marries Ed Leary, a quiet neuroscientist whom she sees as the means to an upper-middle-class future. But Ed is dedicated to pure scientific research, and he turns down lucrative job offers from pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions. The couple's apartment in Jackson Heights is a step up from Eileen's parents' apartment, but she wants a home in tony Westchester County. Later, Eileen pursues an arduous career as a nursing administrator to secure a future for their son, Connell. But once she gets her gracious but dilapidated fixer-upper in Bronxville, in southern Westchester, Ed is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, and the family slowly endures "the encroaching of a fathomless darkness." Thomas works on a large canvas to create a memorable depiction of Eileen's vibrant spirit, the intimacy of her love for Ed, and the desperate stoicism she exhibits as reality narrows her dreams. Her life, observed over a span of six decades, comes close to a definitive portrait of American social dynamics in the 20th century. Thomas's emotional truthfulness combines with the novel's texture and scope to create an unforgettable narrative.