Ellmann, Lucy 1956–
Ellmann, Lucy 1956–
(Lucy Elizabeth Ellmann)
PERSONAL: Born October 18, 1956, in Evanston, IL; daughter of Richard David (a professor and writer) and Mary Joan (a writer; maiden name, Donahue) Ell-mann; married Todd McEwen (a writer); children: Emily Firefly Gasquoine. Education: Falmouth School of Art, Foundation Degree, 1975; Essex University, B.A. (with honors), 1980; Courtauld Institute of Art (London, England), M.A., 1981.
ADDRESSES: Home—Edinburgh, Scotland. Office—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury Publishing, 37 Soho Sq., London W1D 3HB, England.
CAREER: Writer, writing teacher; has also worked as a chambermaid and dishwasher.
AWARDS, HONORS: Guardian Fiction Prize, 1988, for Sweet Desserts; James Tait Black Memorial Prize shortlist, 1991, for Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, 1998, for Man or Mango? A Lament; Hawthornden fellow, 1988 and 1992; Royal Literary Fund Fellow; shortlisted for Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, for Dot in the Universe and Doctors & Nurses.
Sweet Desserts, Virago (London, England), 1988, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1991.
Man or Mango?: A Lament, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
Dot in the Universe, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2003.
Doctors & Nurses, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2006.
Also writer of a short film, The Spy Who Caught a Cold, for Channel Four. Contributor of reviews of books and art exhibitions to Artforum, Modern Painters, Guardian, Listener, New Statesman, Washington Post, New York Times Book Review, and Times Literary Supplement. Author of unproduced screenplays.
SIDELIGHTS: Suzy Schwartz—the protagonist of Lucy Ellmann's autobiographical first novel, Sweet Desserts—is the youngest daughter of a world-renowned American art historian at Oxford University. Overshadowed by her father's illustrious achievements, and by the academic and personal successes of her older sister, Fran, Suzy resorts to eating and empty love affairs in an attempt to give passion and focus to her own lusterless existence. A quick, failed marriage does leave her with a daughter she adores, and following her father's death, a holiday reunion with Fran hints that there is a relationship worth reclaiming. Still, Ellmann eschews a neat, "heart-rending conclusion," observed Maureen Freely in the London Observer. "Too intelligent for cheap insights and sentimental resolutions … [Ellmann] chooses instead to be true to the emotional moment."
Calling Sweet Desserts "a very successful debut," London Review of Books critic John Sutherland related that "the novel contrives to be both bitter and amusing." Sutherland elaborated: "The power of Sweet Desserts lies in its passive-aggressive tone of voice, interspersed … with scraps from diet sheets, pop-songs, newspaper headlines, school reports, family letters and post-mortems." In Sweet Desserts "Ellmann has given us a painful account of how the consumer world eats its dithering prey," claimed Lesley Chamberlain in the Times Literary Supplement. "The young woman who can't give her life beauty and shape disfigures her body from the inside to fill up the space, while from the outside her existence looks like a collage of views from women's magazines, instructions from cookery books and opinions from newspapers…. It's a fake, flat, passionless world, which is driving Suzy to self-destruction." Chamberlain continued: "One of the merits of this intelligent book is that it bubbles with ideas under the dejected, consumerish surface." Describing Sweet Desserts as "a wild book" in which "angst-ridden confessions" alternate with snatches of popular culture, Freely decided that "the story may be depressing and familiar, but thanks to its spirited author, it is funny in spite of itself—and refreshingly unguarded." Freely added: "Hopefully it is the first of many."
Ellmann's novel "Dot in the Universe is a book unlike any other you'll come across this year," wrote Christie Hickman in the Age. Dot Butser's life is turned upside down when she discovers that her husband has been cheating on her—with many different women. Add to that the burden of turning forty, and Dot becomes so forlorn she commits suicide (but not before inadvertently killing a few strangers in the process). Then, nonplussed with life after death, she finagles her way to reincarnation. Through a bizarre series of events, Dot comes back to life first as an opossum and then as a woman who exalts in her new status and lives life to the hilt, only to find herself right back where she started. "It's an anarchic flight of fancy, stuffed with ideas and opinions that are shrewd, passionate, outrageous and very, very funny," Hickman wrote. A writer for Kirkus Reviews called Dot in the Universe "clever" and "smart," but concluded that Dot's ethereal status "doesn't provide Ellmann's wry and raunchy humor with the stable foundation it needs." Other critics, such as New Statesman contributor Hephzibah Anderson, appreciated a literary heroine verging on middle-age, even though she "has little in common with this frowzy sisterhood of wives and mothers." Anderson concluded that Ellmann's "nimble-minded anarchy" turns out to be "one muddy, nihilistic mass of ills."
In Doctors & Nurses, obese nurse Jen, whose life is filled with food and squalor, lusts after a glamorous, married-with-children, completely immoral doctor who kills his patients on a regular basis. They eventually embark on an affair that is driven as much by Jen's lust for handbags as it is by their mutual attraction to gore and licentiousness. Reviewers who commented on the novel noted Ellmann's abundant use of capital letters and her penchant for filling her prose with lists of unusual items. Jennifer Reese, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the novel "filthy, hilarious, and absolutely furious." A writer for Publishers Weekly thought the book was not for the fainthearted, but concluded that "it's a hilarious exaggeration of a profession's foibles."
Ellmann once told CA: "Apolitical, apathetic, uncomprehending and lascivious, I was formerly a strident animal-lover. I find injustice intolerable, especially that of being seated next to a bore at dinner, or subjected to any dealings with the gas, electricity, and telephone companies."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Age (Melbourne, Australia), May 18, 2003, Christie Hickman, review of Dot in the Universe.
Entertainment Weekly, February 24, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of Doctors & Nurses, p. 67.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of Dot in the Universe, p. 6.
Library Journal, February 1, 2006, Christine Perkins, review of Doctors & Nurses, p. 70.
London Review of Books, September 1, 1988, John Sutherland, review of Sweet Desserts.
New Statesman, February 3, 2003, Hephzibah Anderson, review of Dot in the Universe, p. 53.
Observer (London, England), August 14, 1988, Maureen Freely, review of Sweet Desserts.
Publishers Weekly, January 2, 2006, review of Doctors & Nurses, p. 34.
Times Literary Supplement, August 12, 1988, Lesley Chamberlain, review of Sweet Desserts, p. 891.