27 January 2007

Book Review: Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

New Year’s Reading Resolution #1

Emotionally Weird 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.

Rating: A-


Anonymous said...

Hi! Great review, thank you! I have only read "Case Histories" so I will have to put this one on my TBR list. Happy Reading!

Literary Feline said...

Wonderful review! I've been watching to see what you'd have to say about Emotionally Weird. I'll have to add it to by wishlist.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I'll have to add this one to my TBR list. I have read Scenes from the Museum which I didn't enjoy much but then I read Case Histories and loved that so I've been wanting to try another of her books.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good book! I have Behind the Scenes at the Museum sitting on my TBR shelf so if I enjoy that one, I'll likely add this to my wishlist.

Amat Libris said...

I seem to have made a popular choice with this one! I can see why; I added another of hers to my TBR box before I even finished this one.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776