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Man or Mango?

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Eloise is the sad, mad, and hermetic heroine at the center of Lucy Ellmann's hilarious new novel. A middle-aged ceilist who hides herself away in a tiny British cottage, she blames the world for its lack of love, and similarly despises it for its anger. Not until her beloved cello is stolen -- and her former lover, an American poet named George, returns -- does Eloise emerge from her shell. It is then that she and a myriad cast of schemers, cheats, and lovers descend upon a small Irish village and its inhabitants.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Lucy Ellmann

21 books335 followers
Lucy Ellmann was born in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of biographer Richard Ellmann and writer Mary Ellmann (née Donahue). She moved to England at the age of 13 and was educated at Falmouth School of Art (Foundation degree, 1975), Essex University (BA, 1980), and the Courtauld Institute of Art (MA, 1981).

Her highly-praised autobiographical first novel, Sweet Desserts, was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize. Both her second book, Varying Degrees of Hoplessness, and her third, Man or Mango?, were shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, while her fourth, Dot in the Universe, was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for the Believer Book Award.

Lucy Ellmann is a regular contributor of articles on art and fiction to Artforum, Modern Painters, the Guardian, the Listener, the New Statesman, and the Times Literary Supplement. She is also a screenwriter and was a Hawthornden Fellow in 1992.

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5 stars
45 (14%)
4 stars
102 (33%)
3 stars
90 (29%)
2 stars
49 (16%)
1 star
18 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews
Profile Image for Doug.
1,934 reviews667 followers
October 7, 2019
4.5, rounded up.

The impetus for reading this, obvs., was the delight I took in Ellmann's magnum opus, Ducks, Newburyport - Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019, since I subsequently wanted to sample what her back catalogue might contain. If anything, this is both quirkier, and funnier, than that behemoth, and would be an excellent place to start for those who would like to see what all the fuss is about, but do NOT want to commit to 1020 pages to do so. I read this in under 24 hours (not only is it short, but there is a LOT of white space) and I could certainly relate to both of the curmudgeonly main characters. The book also never quite goes where you think it might, which is again a hallmark of Ellmann's writing. And on the basis of this, I want to continue my way through that not extensive back catalog, but perhaps pace myself and savor each one.

PS ... for those of you who MIGHT be wondering if the title refers to the embattled orange-tinted faux POTUS, it is even worse than that.... it's the question poor Eloise posits as to which would make a more suitable sex partner! :-O!
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
January 26, 2022
Another of the early Ellmann novels which was reissued by Bloomsbury after the success of Ducks, Newburyport, this is a book that I might have liked more had I read it when it was first published in the late 90s, but now seems rather a lightweight comedy compared with her best work. As always it is laced with her pet polemics which are always entertaining to read.
Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books313 followers
December 29, 2019
Man or Mango is my least favorite Ellmann novel. I have gotten through all of her novels aside from Doctors & Nurses and Ducks, Newburyport. This not to say that Man or Mango, a Lament, is not good. It is entertaining, like all of her work, though it lacks focus and subtlety in my opinion.

Ellmann, famously an expatriate, who looks down on America's excesses through the lenses of her biased characters. There were segments in this book of unfiltered feminist vituperation. She also takes occasional potshots at Britain, so I wonder if she really feels at home there. One would gather from her humorous tirades that she was perpetually uncomfortable. Her characters, which are all uniformly Vonnegut-level snide social commentary machines, sniping at Presidents and secret shoppers and innocent old ladies, never tire of criticizing the universe around them. This method is used to best effect in her masterpiece Dot in the Universe, where she pulls out all the stops and unleashes the full force of her imagination. Ellmann has it out against aging, infirmity, and general unhappiness, the cruelty of the universe and the barbarity of human beings. Fulfillment doesn't present itself to her hopeful and hopeless, lovelorn protagonists. It is the illusive Grail they compose their grim jeremiads to.

Present for the reader's reflection is a fixation with ice hockey, cramps of a sensitive nature, and other unexplainable absurdities. The novel would have gone off without a hitch if it weren't for digressions, transgressions and lists. They intercede the story whenever the protagonists interact in a semi-interesting way. Unlike in Mimi, not a lot of participation occurs between the elements of story and the outward-directed commentary. If she could, Ellmann would operate solely within the confines of her characters' heads, as she does in her massive psychological tome Ducks, Newburyport. The outside world is only a medium through which the opinions and perceptions of these literary players wade. Nothing is as real as their own vexations. I got the sense that Ellmann started writing without much thought where she was going with it and then the pen started veering off wildly as she attempted to navigate fictional automatons through the tangled web of her own discontented worldview.

Still, she is an intelligent writer tossing aside the reigns, and training the rifle of her seething resentment on the personal and trivial tragedies of human lives.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,008 reviews4,008 followers
January 10, 2012
Eloise, with umlaut, is a self-hating woman of private means who loathes leaving the house. Speaking to the mailman causes her hours of trauma, as do basic phone or street interactions, particularly those with negative outcomes. She curls up with her cats making lists when she isn’t fretting about washing her hair. George, her ex, is an American poet composing an epic on ice hockey whose chauvinism is coming to an end with an acute case of writer’s block. After a hundred pages of existential cramp, the action switches to Connemara, Ireland, where a slew of oddities muscle into the narrative for a deeply disappointing murder mystery weekend experience. Ellmann’s third novel is her weakest—a shambling arrangement of back-and-forth character destructions with flipping narrative positions, replete with embedded quotations from Yeats, Melville, and bee studies. The emotional truffles on offer include the prickling hints at Eloise’s guilt at helping murder her parents, and the beastliness of her hermit grandmother, but ostensibly this is a story about two mad people who stop being mad for two minutes to realise they’re painfully in love. Some delightfully acerbic, compulsive and manic writing here. (And if you haven’t done so yet, go and read Dot in the Universe).
Profile Image for Robert Wechsler.
Author 9 books125 followers
Shelved as 'tasted'
June 24, 2019
Ellmann is a very clever writer, but I was not taken with this novel. That’s the thing about humor: you go for it or you don’t, even when it’s very well done. The only part I really disliked was the lists. I made it to page 50.
Profile Image for Julie Kuvakos.
153 reviews165 followers
October 23, 2022
was not disappointed at all. Lucy definitely stands on her own in the best way. It is a rare talent when an author possesses a uniqueness that presents political and social points in new, interesting, cut throat, and even dare I say poignant way.

I quite enjoyed this book and there was never a dull moment. The characters relatable traits such as hiding from humans, seemingly incessant list making, and self consciousness all drove me to the end to appreciate Eloise all the way through. Ed’s giant vegetable growing, the added poetry, fruit labeling, and following the story of the ants and bees were the icing on the cake for me.

Lucy gives me a lot to think about… sexual repression, isolation, death, the need for humanity and our contribution to the earth, and most importantly love.

“I felt sorry for anyone who loved. Love makes you vulnerable- vulnerable to death, that greatest unfairness of all. But none the less the loss of him merged with all the other deaths around me, a sea of people swiped from me.”
Profile Image for Tuck.
2,223 reviews206 followers
June 28, 2011
Beautiful, if quirky novel about meaningfulness in human lives. What makes our lives worth living? Family and friends? Love? Work? A Zen-like appreciation for all the universe, of which we are just a tiny part? Or, according to this novel, not a damn thing, we are just as big a piece of shit as comes out our bums. We are no more important or insightful than the wrack whipping to and fro on a cold boulder somewhere on the sea shore right this moment. This could be my new xmas story.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 10 books159 followers
November 14, 2015
From my 1999 notebook:
Not for me. Starts well, funny, journalistic, lists thrown in, the holocaust, life of bees etc., but it deteriorates - for me - when it all decamps to C? (Can't make out my writing) and there's an earthquake and a tidal wave but frankly I didn't care. Although I did read on to the end.
Profile Image for Jillian Smith.
21 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2023
ellman will always impress me with her lists of what's in a kitchen. she's done it again.

I'm still sitting with my thoughts on this. big for women who worry and our futility against earth
Profile Image for jeremy.
1,112 reviews275 followers
October 16, 2022
the earth should spin a little faster on its axis, fling us from the trees we'd cling to, hurl us into outer space. nature is cruel but the cruellest seam runs through us: we dream of apocalypse.
preceding ducks, newburyport by a full twenty years, lucy ellmann's third novel, man or mango?: a lament, is the tale of eloïse, a largely anti-social middle-aged cottager, burdened by unrequited love and annoyed by nearly everything. with acerbic humor and biting commentary (perhaps ducks in its nascency), man or mango? is largely uneven, but best when focused on eloïse in all her misanthropic glory. herein the american-born, scotland-based author (with one of the finest "about the author"s ever) shifts formats and narrative in a way that doesn't always work, but is yet somehow invariably enticing.
life itself is as senseless and unthinking as the sea, as storms that finger prairies in spirals. in this it reflects the apathy of galaxies. we try to impose some purpose (love?) on life but through the fence we get glimpses of meaninglessness. when a pair of drowned children, brother and sister, wash up on a norfolk beach and life just goes on. when generation after generation of donkeys suffer. the map of the world is covered by layer upon layer of such tragedy. a body is always washing up on some shore.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for George.
2,111 reviews
February 16, 2022
An odd, original, humorous, interesting, short novel with an outlandish plot. The author includes many interesting facts and writes lots of humorous comments about being a male or female human being. The two main characters are Eloise, a lonely woman who has surprisingly inherited property and money from her grandmother. Eloise enjoys and is very comfortable in living alone. Six years ago she fell in love with George, a married American poet. Eloise returned to England and visits a property in Ireland that Eloise inherited from her grandmother. It’s six years on and George is no longer married. He decides to travel to Britain.

Here are a couple of examples of the authors writing style:

“Unable to make babies, they make bombs instead. Men menstruate by shedding other people’s blood.”
“And they dare to rule the world! They have made it so ugly. Square homes! Their obsession with straight lines and right angles has ruined the earth! They consider all curves, all subtleties, all softness, all indefinites, female, and they shun them. They have poisoned and denatured everything they touch, and expect us to be grateful.

This book was first published in 1998. It provides a good example of the author’s writing style, her sense of humour and the issues that she will flesh out further in her 2019 Booker Prize shortlisted book, ‘Ducks, Newburyport’.
Profile Image for Denise.
45 reviews7 followers
July 25, 2017
This book, in a way, is about losing faith in life, love and human beings in general. It is told in alternating narratives, each of which reveals an insight into the characters' lives and thoughts. My favorite, the main character, is Eloise, who "had watched her mother die lost, her father die angry, her old cat in her arms die all unknowing. And she had endured another loss that was like a death. She had seen how the body can let you down, she had no faith in it. Her own was an empty shell through which ghosts of thoughts and desires occasionally wandered." Eloise is a hermit, who hates leaving the house, and even when she's inside her home she shies away from windows for fear of people walking past and looking inside at her. She has such an extreme form of social anxiety that she takes hours to build up her courage just to make one phone call, and it also takes her hours to recover after said phone call.

She has lost all faith in love and men after her lover, George, abandoned her ("Scientists have abolished love. We're all in it for the sake of our genes... Sexual love (is) a feeble thing concocted out of hormones, clothing, lies and a junk diet of pop songs, its shallowness confirmed every time someone says,'There are plenty of fish in the sea': the assumption is that you can direct your desires at practically anyone!") She hates men ("Their only aim is to spread their seed far and wide. They are born to deceive, to deprive, to misunderstand, mislead, ignore and ruin women. Love is wasted, wasted on them.), and she expresses certain opinions that are similar to that of modern feminists ("Men are lonely, much lonelier than they realize. Their mistake is in spending too much time with other men: equals only in futility, they speak so that other men will hear and listen only to hear what other men say.")

I found Eloise to be a really interesting character, and I empathized with her and agreed to a certain extent to her opinions, extreme though they were. Had the book been from her perspective only, I would have given it 5 stars. Unfortunately, the book is also told from the perspectives of numerous people which, though interesting in and of itself, contributed nothing to the general plot, and had but a tenuous link to Eloise and her story, making the story confusing and sometimes redundant. That being said, the characters are odd and quirky, the weirdest of whom was Ed, a farmer of over sized prize vegetables who, in his free time, make and deliver letter bombs to women who have been on the news). Worthy of note is the character of the 3 old biddies: "As an adult you become your own guardian. You devote yourself to your future self's wants. You do its chores for it, tidy up so that your future self can find things later, avoid committing crimes which will land your future self in prison, pay bills so your future self will be adequately provided with heat and lighting, food and shelter. So much effort on behalf of someone who does not yet, may never, and definitely eventually won't, exist! The old biddies were past caring about the future. They had no time for aftermath worries, no interest in repercussions. They were tired of self-admonishment. They lived for the moment. They wanted a good time and they wanted it now!"

This book is certainly unique, and I'd recommend it for anyone who agrees with Murakami's philosophy that "if you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking".
Profile Image for Lizzy Baldwin.
216 reviews7 followers
February 21, 2017
I think we’ll take this review step by step, The book follows the life of Eloise an unmarried British woman, nursing a very fragile and broken heart. After inheriting her father’s estate, she creates a hermit style existence inside a quaint Tudor cottage where she decides to hide from the world. She avoids any interaction with others and has specific times of recovery for each interaction, innocent glance her way (ten minutes) verbal contact (hours) having that verbal contact rejected by a friend after a social event (days.) Surrounded by her gang of feral cats Eloise attempts not to think about the man that broke her heart.

Enter George, an American who has moved to England to write an epic poem on Ice Hockey (are you still with me?) He has left his ex-wife in Massachusetts to come to the land of the great poets and perhaps a sneaky second chance with Eloise the woman he fell for whilst he was still married. He gets a ‘gig’ as a writer-in-residence at the London University but spends a hell of a lot of the time warbling about getting Eloise back and moaning about British sensibilities. He’s also obsessed with the notebook of one of his students that was killed in an accident the night that he yelled at her for not attending one of his classes. George seeks solace in the notebook and tries to work out how badly he hurt Eloise.

So that’s the background of the book that took a lot longer than I thought it would; the way the book gets a little surreal is the writing style. Ellman used lists, obsessive letters to other characters (and the council as Eloise attempts to shut everyone out of her hermit style life.) insect-life descriptions, layered realities, flash backs and flash forwards. The writing style has a very surreal feel also – nothing is said how you would expect it to be said and it can be a little alienating. I’m going to insert some quotes that might help to explain this;

“One of my cats reminds me of my mother. I pat my mother in her. Reincarnation of evaporated mother.”

“Unable to make babies, they make bombs instead. Men menstruate by shedding other people’s blood.”

“She stood eating soup in her overgrown garden, looking up at stars she could not name.”

Passages in the writing (for example the last quote) can be incredibly beautiful. But at times the narrative left me a little lost. I felt like I was reading something really interesting but I couldn’t quite grasp it. I couldn’t quite get there.

We don’t get a full picture of them but by using their writing styles (seen in the lists and the letter etc.) We get a wide view into the characters and their personalities. The ending is ironic but if you’ve read the start of the book you wouldn’t expect anything else.


So how did I feel? It’s really an adventure. An adventure into the lives of two completely different characters that are pretty much made for each other. But are struggling with 10385839959 other things it becomes a big ole mess. I book to pick apart and devour but definitely not easy.

Ps. This quote probably sums up my review in one line; “Man or Mango is a joy to read for anyone wanting to go a step beyond the obvious.”

Profile Image for Lakota.
166 reviews3 followers
June 17, 2016
This was a quick read, I picked up on the street in Brighton outside someone's house (they'd left a load of books out with a 'help yourself' sign) and I didn't know what to expect. I'm not sure the 'hilarity' promised quite materialised. Super black humour maybe. Interesting and some parts of Eloise's rants were excellent. Very experimental in tone - some parts are from a student of creative writing's notebook, which was the impression the whole book gave.

Also, lots about bees, and each chapter was illustrated with a picture of what looked more like a hover fly. So that irritated me.
Profile Image for florence baxter.
111 reviews
August 6, 2020
might have to try this another time but dnf'd this not sure if i hate the whole thing or it's just not my kind of book but anyway
11 reviews
March 14, 2023
As a big fan of "Ducks, Newburyport", I really wanted to love this. The first few chapters have some great dark humor. It starts with two main characters who are ex-lovers giving an account of their lives in alternating chapters. One is neurotic and socially apathetic, resigned to spend her time alone. The other is arrogant and self-involved. Without contact for several years, they cross paths eventually. The novel starts to fall apart when new characters are introduced with ambiguous connection to the 2 main characters, some of which are seemingly presented as characters in a piece of fiction written by a student of one of the main characters (?). It's never entirely clear. Ultimately, it fumbles over itself and becomes a jumbled mess in which I struggled to maintain interest. But, it has so much promise, and it still shows that Lucy Ellmann is uniquely talented.
Profile Image for Alarie.
Author 11 books77 followers
March 11, 2020
I’m surprised I finished this book. I did so because it’s fairly short and because I did like a few things about this train wreck of a novel. I grew fond of misfit Eloise, enjoyed passages here and there, and both those things gave me false hope that the author would make it worth my while in the end. She did not.

References to Nazis and the lists of items they confiscated from Jews before extermination led me to expect more gravitas and reflection. Perhaps making lists, long lists, lots and lots of lists does tell us that Eloise is OCD, but one of the worst sins for any author is to bore your audience to tears…or to giving up on your book. It felt to me like Man or Mango was written by a committee who didn't keep tabs on what the others were doing.
Profile Image for Wendy Blacke.
Author 2 books27 followers
October 23, 2022
After reading Ducks, Newburyport I couldn't wait to check out some more Lucy Ellmann so I was very excited to get my hands on Man or Mango to read with my Ducks crew Josh and Julie.

What I wasn't prepared for was just how often I'd be bursting out laughing at the absurd nature of this book. The characters are all so interesting and weird and despite how short this novel is I felt like I got to know them all pretty well.

The chapters are short making it easy to pick up and put down, but you probably won't want to put it down.

The ending surprised me, bringing the book to a satisfying conclusion. Once again I'm left wanting to get my hands on more Lucy Ellmann books.

Highly recommend this one!
Profile Image for David.
776 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2021
This is more melancholy than Mimi, but also a swifter read. And it's still hilarious. The structure is intriguing, too, giving you just enough clues along the way how these various narrative lines might connect. As with Sweet Desserts, there's remarkable depth and seriousness here, mixed in with the jokes and jabs.

Ellmann is a genius.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,356 reviews
February 7, 2023
I’d never heard of this novel until I found it at a bookstore, although the author is now famous for having been shortlisted for the Booker for Ducks, Newburyport. It is funny and quirky but below that and the abundance of white space is an important theme about humanity. How successful can anyone truly be at being reclusive? Even the most accomplished hermit with her favorite cats craves human interaction and love, seeks to avoid death, and has a role in ruining the planet. This is a strange novel to read, with many lists and tangents, but it was interesting beneath the surface.
Profile Image for John Oakley.
80 reviews
December 22, 2022
Extremely good! Possibly perfect!

If I have ever ranted and raved about ducks Newburyport to you but you didn’t want to read a thousand-page run on sentence, just read this instead!!!!

Kinda giving John Henry Days by colson whitehead vibes but like in structure not in content but I guess kinda in content too a little bit?
Profile Image for Roz.
899 reviews54 followers
December 31, 2021
An interesting collection of characters. I preferred the beginning, while the ending felt contrived and unrealistic - I didn't buy it.

But as a whole it was entertaining and I am keen to find "Ducks"
10 reviews
July 13, 2022
I wouldn’t say it was gripping .. entertaining perhaps in a twisted manner. Clever in parts. But puzzle of mismatched pieces at times. Ending was unexpected. The author has a peculiar talent that’s for sure.
9 reviews
November 24, 2022
I wanted a short book to read and this was pretty good. I thought the characters were pretty funny and interesting and I was really drawn in after the first part. Reading I feel like I was missing something the author wanted me to get with the students notebook. Enjoyable anyways
Profile Image for Nan Patience.
65 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2023
Aside from a few passages, I found this book incoherent, its many odd characters hard to follow, and its plot practically nonexistent. I did finish it, but I never "got" it, nor did I find it particularly funny. There were just a few passages ...
Profile Image for Bidisha Das.
161 reviews64 followers
May 3, 2020
The writing is stellar, and I will read everything Lucy Ellmann writes, but I also got a bit lost, especially with that ending.
Profile Image for renee.
112 reviews4 followers
August 19, 2020
Dark and strange; compelling inn form and style as any other Ellman novel.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews

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