Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Curiosities from the Backlist: Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson
I wasn't going to write about this one.
I picked up Emotionally Weird at our first visit to our new neighborhood's library, both to have something to leave with, but really to indulge my curiosity about this new-to-me title in Kate Atkinson's backlist. I am a huge fan of her Jackson Brodie series which so brilliantly meld mystery and literary fiction, and I loved her novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum. This one falls (I believe) in-between on the timeline and I had never heard of it - probably for good reason. Let's face it- it has a terrible, terrible title, and its chick-lit cover automatically makes it a wee bit suspect.
But the biggest reason I wasn't going to write about it is that I just didn't think I liked it. Except... then, suddenly, I did.
Emotionally Weird tells three intertwined stories: the first delves comically into the wacky world of aspiring writer and graduate student Effie Andrews and her eccentric academic cohorts; the second is a suspenseful exploration of Effie and Nora (Effie's mother who is not her mother) and their past; and the third is Effie's first novel, a Madame Astarti mystery in which the heroine is a fortune teller. At any given moment in Emotionally Weird, any of the three stories might interrupt either of the other two - it's a challenging structure that absolutely impacts the fluidity of the reader's experience. I often found it irritating, and very nearly put the book down.
The third story (the Madame Astarti novel) was the least of the three - the complete change of writing style and apparent lack of connection to the rest of the book was annoying, as a result I had a hard time giving it my full attention and thus probably missed some of the significance.
The first story (Effie's academia) is overly crammed full of characters and detail (which Effie openly acknowledges) and quite a bit of wandering from place to place, too much so in some places, making one wonder where on earth is this tale going, and where the heck was the editor in this whole process. Except...
Except the second story is enchanting, and ultimately this is where Kate Atkinson fans will see the signature marks of both Atkinson's appeal and her brilliance. The suspense of the slow reveal of the family mystery kept me turning the pages: Effie's mother is not her mother, and nor are many others who they first appear to be. The mother (who is not Effie's mother) is the keeper of secrets, of a dark and violent family history. The truth revealed will tie the two story lines together in a deliciously sinister and yet compassionate way that makes the reader forgive any aggravation (except, perhaps, the novel within the novel.)