Archive for February 23rd, 2009


Emotionally Weird: A comic novel by Kate Atkinson. Doubleday, 2000.

Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite authors. This wasn’t my favorite book.  I prefer her three novels featuring ex-cop turned PI Jackson Brodie: Case Histories, One Good Turn, and her most recent, When Will There Be Good News?.  I also enjoyed her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.   Still, it’s impossible not to enjoy any of Kate Atkinson’s writing.

The plot of Emotionally Weird revolves around a week in the life of narrator Effie Andrews as she attends university in 1972 Dundee. The large cast of characters, fellow students, professors and sundry others, serves as a platform for a waggish send up of academia. You don’t really need a story to appreciate the wit that pervades every page. A typical passage is this encounter between aging Professor Cousins and Professor McCue as the former wanders into a seminar session:

Kevin was saved from Gramsci by Professor Cousins, who wandered into the room at that moment. He caught sight of Archie [McCue] and seemed confused.

‘Looking for something?’ Archie asked, rather impolitely, and under his breath muttered, ‘like your brain perhaps?’ Professor Cousins appeared to be even more puzzled. ‘I don’t know how I ended up here,’ he laughed. ‘I was looking for the toilet.’

‘You found it,’ Terri murmured, without apparently opening her mouth, or even waking up.

Professor Cousins was English – an affable, rather eccentric person who had recently taken his first tottering steps into dotage. Sometimes Professor Cousins was lucid, sometimes he wasn’t, and as with anyone in the department, it wasn’t always easy to distinguish between the two states. The university’s strict laws on tenure dictated that he had to be dead at least three months before he could be removed from behind his desk.

Atkinson also offers many pleasing and evocative passages, exemplified by this line:

When Terri opened the window to retrieve the wine, flakes of snow flew inside and fell on us like cold confetti tossed by an unseen hand.

The events of Effie’s week are intertwined with a second narrative, a conversation between Effie and Nora, her mother-who-is-not-her-mother, as the latter recounts the circumstances of Effie’s family background. A third story is introduced in the guise of Effie’s creative writing project, a mystery novel. Effie’s own mysterious family history is resolved in the final chapters, and loose ends regarding the multitude of characters are tied up nicely in an update posted as 1999.

Rating: Four stars out of five.

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