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We Are Not Ourselves

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  27,239 ratings  ·  3,910 reviews
Epic in scope, heroic in character, and masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves is a multigenerational portrait of the Irish American Leary family.

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has bee
Hardcover, 620 pages
Published August 19th 2014 by Simon & Schuster
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Laura Abby Stick with it! The pace is one of the qualities of this book that will move you in the end - you are tricked into living this family's life in the slo…moreStick with it! The pace is one of the qualities of this book that will move you in the end - you are tricked into living this family's life in the slow yet rapid way that we all live our lives. (less)
Clarkston AM Book Group Have you thought of going to your school or public library? It may even be available as an eBook that you can check out for free from your public libr…moreHave you thought of going to your school or public library? It may even be available as an eBook that you can check out for free from your public library. Support your libraries! (less)

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Average rating 3.71  · 
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 ·  27,239 ratings  ·  3,910 reviews

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It was a bit hard for me to rate this review with stars. There were times that I thought that I was going to give it 3 and other times 5 stars, so I've settled in the middle of the two.

Instead of being plot-driven this book seems to be solely character-driven where you get a feel of the families individual idiosyncrasies and if you pay particular attention to detail, you can see how the twists and turns in their lives cause subtle changes in each character as you would in real life. This story i
Patrick Brown
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The word I keep coming back to with this book is "honest." No punches pulled here. These characters might let you down, they might not do what you want them to do in every instance, but damn if they don't feel real throughout. Still, the second half of this book is an epic, gut-punch of a page-turner. Highly recommended. ...more
I wish I was a professional writer or reviewer so I could give this novel the brilliant review it deserves. But, alas, I am just a reader who is still processing and recovering from the last highly emotional pages of it. This is about as perfectly written as a novel can be.

Eileen Tumulty is born to Irish immigrants in Queens, New York. Her childhood was tumultuous, and she was forced to grow up sooner than most girls her age. She knew early on that she wanted more of a life for herself. She tho
Sep 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
Did not finish. Characters were flat and plot mundane. It was just unrelenting misery throughout the story - alcoholism, miscarriages, death, illness, bullying - and that was only the first quarter of the book! I know I am in the minority as most people loved this book - but I needed to see a glimmer of hope (or even a likeable character), and Matthew Thomas failed to deliver it.
Kiersten Gawronski
Aug 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
As bored with this book as Eileen was with her life. 100 pages in I figured something needed to change, and if it wasn't going to be her, it had to be me. ...more
Paul Bryant
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an unblinkingly awful exploration of dementia, that’s what dominates three quarters of this very long novel. It’s a very stately, simple, no-flash account of an Irish American woman who meets a guy and has a son, that’s really it. Eileen is really not the nicest person, husband Ed is kind of strange and hugely dorky and the son Connell is frankly someone I would pay not to spend any time with, and this, of course, is the point. She is a senior nurse craving for upward mobility, he is a p ...more
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: debut
How can We Are Not Ourselves be a debut novel? If you had the opportunity to hear Matthew Thomas explain it, it would make sense. Ten years, yes ten years of hard work, tweaking and self- editing before he even tried to sell his manuscript. Ten years. Thomas' diligence paid off in a bidding war for his novel and with glowing early reviews from professionals and readers alike.

It was enlightening to hear Matthew Thomas speak at R.J. Julia's in Madison, CT this past Monday evening. It also makes m
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Poignant, Timely Novel

"If I could make days last forever / If words could make wishes come true / I'd save every day like a treasure and then / Again, I would spend them with you."
Croce, Time in a Bottle, 1972

An elegiac novel to a committed wife whose husband suffers early onset Alzheimer's. I found particularly moving her ability to adapt and accept and cope with the loss of her dreams of a husband who's a dashing, successful professor arriving each evening to a beautiful home in the perfect su
Jessica Jeffers
Feb 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, netgalley
I may try to come back to this later, but I should note that it has taken me nearly a month to read the first 200 pages of this novel -- when I normally go through 2-3 books a week. Honestly? I think it's very well written, I'm just bored. ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I just finished reading and reviewing a novel about home, identity, and how unexpected human developments/illness can capsize lives, called THE ARSONIST, by Sue Miller. And here are those themes again, but in a much different style, plot, and story. Thomas's debut novel is an epic saga, a tersely executed but moving tale of an Irish-American family, and spans a few generations, from the early 1950s to 2011. The story predominantly focuses on Eileen Tumulty, who is a first generation American, an ...more
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio-book, fiction, 2014
I don't think I'm qualified to declare this book a "Great American Novel," so I'll just call it a Great American Story... one whose quiet power I will long remember. ...more
Helene Jeppesen
Sep 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
The beginning of this novel was rough. Multiple characters are thrown at you, the story seems to be going in different directions, and I was utterly confused. I was actually on the verge of putting down the book 80 pages in when something magical happened: We zoom in on the MAIN characters and things start to get interesting.
This is a 600+-page-novel, and having now read it I'm thankful that I didn't put it down after all. What a wonderful, but tragic story about goals, dreams, living life in t
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Richard by: Steve Walker
Who'd a thunk it? I won this as a result of entering a Goodreads giveaway. I am a lucky First Reads winner!

Sept. 25/14: And the book has finally arrived! (Although I'm not sure how long it has been waiting in the mailbox...)

This is the story of an Irish American girl from New York named Eileen Tumulty, who, because of her less-than-ideal family situation, is forced to care for her parents and grow up too fast. She falls for an odd but endearing scientist named Ed Leary, and they are soon married
Oct 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
The only thing worse than reading 282 pages of this book would have been reading 283 pages of this book. That many pages equates an entire (other) novel I could have been engaged in! It felt as if Thomas was quietly observing very boring lives unfolding in front of him and decided to document it. It's too bad because the first line had me thinking I might be reading a family saga akin to 'Angela's Ashes'. The daughter, Eileen, is brought into the pub where her charismatic Irish father is easily ...more
Debbie "DJ"
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, netgalley
ARC through NetGalley. Thank you NetGalley!

First I should say this is a very long read. Some parts of this story held my interest, while others left me indifferent. It is often written in the third person, as such, this story is mostly told rather than felt.

It begins in the 1950's childhood of our main character Eileen. Coming from a painful Irish immigrant background, Eileen wants more out of life. If fact, this is the main theme of the story. She is always looking for greener pastures, cares o
Angela M
Apr 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for this ARC
3.5 if I could give half stars.

There are no perfect people in this book . I liked them one minute and didn't like them the next and then liked them again. That's pretty much how I felt about the book overall because for me it's really a character driven story rather than one that is driven by the plot.

A lot of ground is covered here. The early part of the book is actually my favorite par
Sep 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Meticulous and ponderous, Matthew Thomas's debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves spans several decades, from a classic New York Irish immigrant story to the grinding tragedy of dementia and health care in the 21st century United States (at least prior to the Affordable Care Act).

I've just lost a loved one to Alzheimer's and there is tremendous mercy to be realized in the relatively short span of time between diagnosis and death—only a few years and only in the final months was the decline as devast
Barbara Backus
Nov 13, 2014 rated it did not like it

“Polished prose” (The New York Times), “epic of small events” (Los Angeles Times) and “extraordinary portrait of Alzheimer’s disease” (The Guardian). I would have to agree with this last comment about the depiction of Alzheimer’s but not with most of the praise given to this first novel.

I struggled with it, exasperated on almost every page by both the emphasis on too many unnecessary details on one hand with not enough illuminating details on the other. Then, there’s the often cumbersome writi
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
When a debut book sparks a bidding war on both sides of the Atlantic, the inevitable question is, “Is it worth all the hype?”

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is mostly “yes.”

Oh sure, there are some quibbles. The opening 100 pages – the background information that fleshes out the characters – could be edited down a bit. A very minor character appears in the second half of the book and I had to wade back through pages to remind myself who she was. Another minor character’s part could easily have be
Aidan Byrne
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is as close to perfect as you're going to get, not just from a debut novel, but from any novel, period. There's such great heart in here. Primarily, the story focuses on Eileen Leary, a tough-as-nails nurse originally from Woodside, Queens, but each member of the family—Big Mike, Eileen's father; Ed, her husband; and Connell, her son—gets his due. You feel irretrievably drawn to all of them, so that every heartbreak, either minor or major, becomes your heartbreak and grips you long after yo ...more
Nicole Overmoyer
WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas is a novel that starts off with a bang – the murder of a frog and a father abusing his son for it. Unfortunately, the bang fizzles quickly. The opening scene was something this reader wants to know more about – who the boy and the father are, for example. This reader is disappointed.

Thomas moves swiftly from the frog and the abuse to the small daughter of Irish immigrants to New York City. There is no little boy in sight.

Eileen Tumulty is interesting enough
I wasn't sure what I expected when I started this, but I loved, loved. loved this book.

Thomas tells a real story, of every day people, sometimes not likable people, sad people who are living a real life. His characters are so gritty. Overachievers, quiet men, confused children...all struggling to fit together. The story follows a family as they grow apart and back together.

There is tragedy and strength in this story and I will say there were parts I cried through.

His characters and their li
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Not all aspects of the novel are entirely satisfactory but the characterisation is strong,and interaction of the characters in this Irish American family is handled very well by the author.The plot is linear and predictable and overall the text could have been condensed.Nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable read and I award 4 stars
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Spectacular. I cried through the last third, and I'm not much of a crier. And I found myself constantly astounded that this is a first novel. Six hundred pages and none of it wasted. ...more
RoseMary Achey
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Raw emotion-that is what I felt reading We Are Not Ourselves. This debut work is about a family…not the wider world or the major events of the more than six decades it covers, just a family. Not even an extraordinary family, just a typical American family with so many dreams and aspirations-some of which will be accomplished, but many more will be rationalized or compromised away.

This book will leave you thinking deeply about your own life, your family and your place in the world. Stunning be
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to TL by: Stephanie Aikey
"There are things you feel that you can't explain," Ed said. "You know other people won't understand them."

One of those books that are so well done it seems beyond words to express how it makes you feel. I loved every part of this, even the slow parts... the parts that broke my heart, and even the stretches when not much happened.

Eileen, Ed, and Connell are good people but with their own flaws. They go through life doing the best they can, even when life throws things at them they didn't expect
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
What a long, slow, tedious journey this was! This book is a great case for “less is more.” None of the characters were all that interesting and became less and less interesting as the book droned on and on and on. The narrative was often meaningless. Characters are introduced for no apparent reason and then just dropped, never to reappear. Hints of deceit are made and then forgotten. I had had enough by page 450 and finally bailed out due to terminal boredom. I really just didn't care any longer ...more
Diane Barnes
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: motley-crew
There were times in the early stages of reading this book that I was certain it would only get 3 stars from me. It wasn't badly written, but not beautifully written. It felt at times as though chunks of the story were missing or skipped over, and story characters were a little confusing in their thoughts and actions. Not the kind of writing I wanted to devote 600 pages to, but it was for a book club assignment, so I needed to persevere.
But then Eileen, her husband Ed, and their son Connell are d
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, fiction, america
Points for keeping me reading it even though at first I wasn't too interested. Still....the flow kept pulling me.
But it came into its own about a third of the way in, as the real story began to emerge. Alzheimer's has such an insidious onset that it is hard to recognise at first. It gathers strength and becomes progressively disruptive of the mind, the personality, and the family. This was exceptionally well described and touching. And the letter toward the end squeezed a sob out, so bumped up f
Mary Lins
May 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: complete
“We Are Not Ourselves”, by Matthew Thomas, was recommended to me by a close reading friend who warned me that this novel is a “slow boil” and I wouldn’t realize what all the fuss was about until I’d been into it for a while. But I have to confess, I never did get to the point that I understood why there had been a bidding war in the publishing world over it. For me, it’s reasonably entertaining and interesting, but by no means magnificent.

It tells the story of Eileen Leary and her “absentminded
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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 New York Times-bestselling novel WE ARE NOT OURSELVES has been shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, and the John Gardner Fiction Boo ...more

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