Family history and identity are Kate Atkinson's twinned keynote themes. Behind the Scenes at the Museum
(winner of the Whitbread Book of the year), had "The Family" at its centre, a sweep of charming, related genes who sauntered through the fin de siècle to the less glamorous 1992. Her second novel, Human Croquet
starred the Fairfaxes, all missing mothers, perfumed with nicotine and danger, and strange aunts. Larkin may be right, your parents fuck you up but in Atkinson's novels you have to find out who they are before you can start laying blame.
On the surface, Emotionally Weird follows the trend. Effie and her mother Nora are staying in the decaying family home on a small island off the West coast of Scotland. To keep themselves amused they begin telling stories. Nora's are about their ancestors, in whose veins blood blue as "delphiniums and lupins" flows, and the real identity of Effie's father and mother. Nora's language is like her "sea-change eyes", full of poetry and strange beauty. Effie's tales of life at the University of Dundee and her life with Star Trek obsessed Bob are more prosaic and funny: "I did so hope that Bob was a dress rehearsal, a kind of mock relationship, like a mock exam, to prepare me for the real thing."
The novel becomes troublesome where it follows Effie to a creative writing course at the university. The class is run by Martha: who writes poetry "with impenetrable syntax about a life where nothing happened." The other characters in the novel are pre-occupied with the same need to find meaning through writing. Archetypal detective stories, sword and sorcery fantasy, doctor and nurse romantic scenarios, existential angst and liberal use of ellipses are given free reign. Whilst this self-conscious wordplay is fun for those who enjoy a more literary book, those who simply enjoy a good read may get lost in the jostle of competing language construction.
In this novel, confused paternity is only part of the struggle for identity, the words you use are also defining- you are what you write. Some readers will revel in the Shandy-esque shape of the experimental in this narrative, others may find it's a literary joke taken too far.--Eithne Farry.
"The lustre, energy and panache of her writing are as striking as ever...Funny, bold and memorable" (Helen Dunmore The Times
"Beautifully written...brimming with quirky characters and original storytelling. Kate Atkinson has struck gold with this unique offering" (Time Out
"Sends jolts of pleasure off the page...Atkinson's funniest foray yet...it is a work of Dickensian or even Shakespearean plenty" (The Scotsman
"A truly comic novel - achingly funny in parts - challenging and executed with wit and mischief...hilarious and magical" (Meera Syal Daily Express
"Her novels are remarkable both in and of themselves, and as evidence of an important emerging body of work from a brilliant and profoundly original writer" (Daily Telegraph