New Year’s Reading Resolution #1
It’s 1972, and Effie Andrews and her mother Nora are holidaying together in the tumbledown family seat on a miserable island off the Scottish coast. To pass the time, they agree to tell stories. Effie spins tales of her life at university: unwritten essays, feuding professors, a drug-addled boyfriend who takes life at snail’s pace. But there are stranger things afoot - a missing yellow dog, a series of deaths, and her constant sense of being followed. Nora is more reluctant, and it is with difficulty that Effie can prise anything out of her, much less what she really wants to hear (the identity of her father). When she finally does tell her tale, the truth is more extraordinary than even Effie’s creative-writing-major brain could invent.
Effie’s stories are comical and feature a huge cast of characters (off the top of my head I can think of at least thirty); fortunately all are distinctive and there’s no trouble remembering who’s who. At first she seems to be relating the (very well remembered) truth, but later in the book weird things begin happening (like stray pages of her tutor’s densely literary novel translating themselves into reality), and she starts altering the course of events to suit Nora’s wishes. Then just when you start suspecting she’s making it all up, you find that Effie’s tales have at least some grounding in real life, though you can never be sure how much. It’s an interesting variation on the ‘unreliable narrator’ method of storytelling.
Nora complains that Effie’s story lacks plot, and she’s right; the chronicle of a rather aimless life is bound to be aimless itself. But the jumble of eccentric characters and events - from somnolent classmates and dog-napping to absent-minded professors and stakeouts - that fills her days makes it addictive; and Nora’s tale and the winding-up in the last couple of chapters manage to provide it with an end. A few threads are left dangling; the fate of the elusive yellow dog isn’t revealed and Effie never does find out whether a couple of her professors were correct in their suppositions that someone was trying to kill them. But somehow that seems in keeping with the rambling nature of the book, and is a minor quibble with a funny and thoroughly entertaining work.