Coffee or Tea? Man or Mango? The Choices One Must Make

Satirical Novel Makes a Comeback After 24 Years

Lucy Ellman’s satire receives a reissue, how does it hold up? Courtesy Biblioasis

Well-written, funny at times, but not quite stimulating, Man or Mango was a fun, easy read that I would recommend to someone going on a long train or bus ride to visit family. It doesn’t fit any other purpose in my mind.

Lucy Ellman’s novel has been re-published by Biblioasis this fall. Ellman was born in the United States, but now lives in Scotland. Man or Mango is unsurprisingly set in the United Kingdom. The novel features a cast of bizarre people living exceptional lives. Among the main characters, there is Eloise, a self-defined hermit lady with two cats, George, an American poet writing an epic on hockey, and Owen, a widowed father with what seems to be an undiagnosed mood disorder. Narrated almost entirely through internal monologue, it is a very chaotic, yet straightforward read. 

This novel is clearly satirical, I would venture to say even absurdist. The characters are mostly caricatures and, for the most part, have no depth. They only start being properly developed in the last 50 pages of the novel. Despite their caricature-like nature, the novel is not lighthearted in any way. All the characters in this novel are isolated, lonely and unhappy in different ways. It seems as though, in that universe, no one can be happy. This doesn’t make or break the novel, but I found it took away from its potential. As a satire, I feel like it should have made a more nuanced, or more potent commentary, but its one-dimensionality made this fall flat. 

Ellman uses interesting literary techniques, such as a series of listicles. For example, the hermit’s listicle of how long it takes her to recover from different social interactions has 45 entries, including:

“Unavoidable chat with neighbour –

(outdoors)                                              two hours

(indoors)                                                three hours 


Pretending not to be in when coalman comes – half an hour


Remembering social encounters from the past – 

(pleasant)                                             twenty minutes 

(not so pleasant)                                  two hours

(painful)                                                four hours

(downright pitiful)                                  days”

While this listicle was fun to read, there are so many in the novel that they get repetitive, and not as humorous.  However, they do highlight the comically niche interests of a lot of the characters.

For the character of George, Ellman capitalizes certain words in his thoughts, which was a technique I really appreciated. This way of emphasizing George’s rants made them a lot funnier. For example, when he is visiting Connemara, he goes on a guided tour to Samuel Beckett’s uncle’s granddaughter’s house, who lives on an island nearby. These are his reflections on the granddaughter: 

“In fact, I’d decided it was quite possible we’d get MARRIED. It wasn’t love, I just want to live on an island.

She said she’d meet me on the shore and row me over. I observed a lot of brown water lapping against pebbles as I waited for her – pretty CALM considering I was about to meet my future BRIDE.” 

His self-awareness, highlighted with the capitalized intonations that almost sound to me like a voice crack when reading them, is hilarious.

However, this book disconcerted me a little. Its satirical contents are funny, but not observational or clever enough. Overall, I wasn’t satisfied with its contents enough to praise it. I can’t recommend it further than as a last resource for entertainment.