Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016: Smart fiction about storytelling

Reviewed by Laura M.,
reference librarian

I discovered Kate Atkinson when her wonderful novel Life After Life got so much attention a few years ago and I have been making my way through the rest of her catalog ever since. Life After Life is a rather serious novel set during World War II, but I enjoyed the conceit of the protagonist dying and being reborn time and time again, and I knew I had to check out what else Atkinson was capable of. I was expecting her other novels to be similarly serious, but I was so wrong! I read both Human Croquet and Emotionally Weird this year, and they were two of the most quirky, delightful, and hilarious books I’ve ever read.

So I’m choosing Emotionally Weird as my favorite book of 2016; even though it was published in 2001, it’s new to me, and I think it deserves to be rediscovered. Atkinson is a pro at character development, and this novel has a large cast of extremely eccentric characters, for which I’m always a sucker. Set in the microcosm of a college town in Scotland in the 1970s, the book is set up as Effie and her mother telling each other stories, and neither seems to think too highly of the other’s. Effie’s mother is determined to tell Effie her origin story, and Effie is not too keen on hearing it. She is trying to navigate her writing classes and her relationship with her apathetic boyfriend, Bob, and her mother interrupts the story from time to time to give her opinion of Effie’s situation.

Interspersed throughout are chapters from the mystery novel Effie is writing. On top of that, she may or may not be being pursued by a private detective, someone is killing the old people in town, and there are at least three hilarious subplots--one involving the ownership of a dog, another about a baby being looked after by most of the student body, and the third revolving around the English professors all jockeying for the department head position. Sound like a lot? It is, but the reader is rewarded for keeping up with everything. Emotionally Weird is an incredibly smart novel about storytelling that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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