Audiobook Review: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

wearenotourselvesTitle: We Are Not Ourselves
Author: Matthew Thomas
Genre: Literary fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Audiobook reader: Mare Winningham
Audiobook length: 20 hours 51 minutes
First line: Instead of going to the priest, the men who gathered at Doherty’s Bar after work went to Eileen Tumulty’s father.

Goodreads blurb: 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 been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

The fact that I finished listening to this monstrously long audiobook is a huge indication that my decision to no longer accept review copies is the best possible decision. If I had picked this up to listen to on my own, rather than receiving a review copy through Audiobook Jukebox, I would not have finished it. Because I requested the book, I felt obligated to slog through. And it was a slog.

I realize that I am in a teeny weeny minority when it comes to my opinion on this book. It seems that everyone else absolutely adores it. I don’t know why I requested it to begin with; I know that I have a hate-hate relationship with “literary fiction.” And yet, I see all the shiny reviews of the latest literary darling, and I think, “This time it will be different!” And sometimes it is, and I end up loving the book. But that happens maybe one out of ten times; the other nine I’m left wondering what I’m missing. Or else I find myself asking why authors with such breathtaking writing skills have no sense of plot movement or story development.

Matthew Thomas can write; that is not in any doubt. But he writes and writes and writes. This audiobook was about seven hours longer than it needed to be. There were times when the story would go off on yet another rabbit trail that I would actually find myself rolling my eyes. And when one of the rabbit trails finally catches my attention, it is dropped and never to be seen again. (What happened to Sergei?!)

I also don’t think Mare Winningham should read audiobooks. I like her as an actress, but she has a monotone, sleep-inducing drone of a voice – which is definitely not a good match for a book that already feels way too long.

So, bottom line: If you already like literary ficton, read this in print; if, like me, you don’t really get it, then give it a miss.

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9 Responses to Audiobook Review: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

  1. Heather
    Twitter: BookAddictHeath

    That’s too bad! People are raving about this one so I still plan to pick it up in print but I’ll temper my expectations a bit.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Heather – yes, I am definitely in the minority. You may be one reader who loves it!

  2. JoAnn @Lakeside Musing
    Twitter: lakesidemusing

    Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t like this audiobook. It was a 2014 print favorite for me, but I can certainly see where it would not be for everyone. I keep swearing off review copies, then netgalley tempts me to request one more…

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      JoAnn – I know – those review copies are so tempting! I had to unsubscribe to Shelf Awareness; it was too hard.

  3. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    NOOOOOOO! I loaded this on audio awhile back, and only haven’t listened because it was so long. (Yes, I just finished The Paying Guests which was 17 discs, but that is Sarah Waters you know.) I was really looking forward to this one because it received insanely good reviews. But the reality is that if I don’t listen to the audio, I won’t read it. I may give it a try and see how it goes.

  4. Michelle says:

    Girl, I’m impressed you even attempted it on audio. I cannot do literary fiction on audio for the same reasons you struggled with this one. They tend to be too wordy, too internalized, and character-driven. None of that translate well into audiobooks for me. I wonder if you would have felt differently had you read it in print…

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Michelle – I wonder that, too. I think I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m tempted into the world of literary fiction.