Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

Emotionally Weird Kate AtkinsonMy first review of the year was of Kate Atkinson’s debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum which prompted me to make more of an effort to read the back catalogues of my favourite authors. It therefore seems fitting to end the year with a review of Atkinson’s third novel ‘Emotionally Weird’ which was first published in 2000 and tells the story of Euphemia (Effie) Stuart-Murray and her mother Nora who live on a remote Scottish island. Effie is telling Nora about her life as a student in Dundee living with her Star Trek-obsessed boyfriend Bob. However, Effie also has questions about her family history and what she really wants is for Nora to disclose who her real father is.

Atkinson’s sense of humour has always shined through in her work but ‘Emotionally Weird’ is the first of her books I have come across which can be described as a comic novel. The depiction of life at the University of Dundee in the early 1970s supposedly bears little resemblance to the Scottish higher education institution at the time (Atkinson was a student there herself in the same era) but the eccentric characters and detailed scene-setting suggests Atkinson has a keen eye for the foibles of human behaviour in a similar environment, particularly where student politics and creative writing seminars are concerned.

The structure is more postmodern and experimental than I had been expecting, interspersed with extracts from Effie’s detective novel written during her studies and frequent interruptions from Nora while Effie is narrating her version of events, using a variety of typefaces to differentiate between each strand. However, Atkinson is also self-aware enough to recognise the obvious pitfalls of such techniques and uses the meta-storytelling to parody different genres and to make fun of pretentious literary criticism and academia without allowing the story to become overwhelmed with its own intricacy.

As with pretty much any comic novel, the real strength of ‘Emotionally Weird’ lies in the weird and wonderful cast of characters while the plot, such as there is, does run out of steam a bit towards the end with maybe a few too many knowing winks aimed at the reader. However, this does not detract from what is otherwise a cleverly constructed and often very funny book and I am now eagerly anticipating Atkinson’s new novel ‘Transcription’ which is due out in September in the UK.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

  1. Ola

    Kate Atkinson is an author I heard a lot about, all good things really but never picked any of her books. Which of her books would you recommend me to introduce me to the world of Atkinson?

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  2. Coincidentally I picked up Behind the Scenes at the Museum off my bookshelf yesterday and thought I really should read Atkinson’s back catalogue and then thought of half a dozen other authors I have come late to where the same was true. I think I am actually going to start with David Mitchell but Atkinson will be well up there too.

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  3. Was a long time ago I read this, when I first became an Atkinson fan. I didn’t know any others then! I don’t think it’s as stand out memorable as her other books, not that it’s a bad book, just that her standard is rather high!

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  4. This does sound great. I heard a lot about her and picked up When Will There Be Good News and it was a page turner for about 1/3rd and then sucked. I hope this is better than that. It certainly sounds good.

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  5. Ethan S.

    I’m sorry to say I’ve never read her works, but I like the idea of starting from the beginning. I may have to copy your idea for the new year!

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  6. susan burpee

    I love Kate Atkinson’s work. I started, as well, with Behind the Scenes at the Museum. A God in Ruins is one of (and maybe THE) best book I’ve read in years. Still, I wish she’d write some more of her Jackson Brodie series. Love that character.

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