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8th December
2010
written by Steph

Why oh why don’t more people read Kate Atkinson? That is what I found myself wondering as I put down my most recent Atkinson novel, Emotionally Weird, a novel I can really only describe as a triumph of literary imagination. I know that some people get all in a tizzy over Atkinson’s detective fiction starring Jackson Brodie, but I admit that this always makes me grumpy, mostly because I think Atkinson’s non-mystery fiction is so superior. And I’m not just trampling on her whodunnits for the sake of being crabby; I legitimately think Atkinson writes whip-smart novels that make me giddy and make me marvel but I think she does her best work when she’s writing whatever this kind of novel is and not when she’s writing about smoking guns and missing persons and whathaveyou. She’s one of those authors who uses her books to truly create something that’s just slightly larger than life, which means her writing is always a real treat to escape into. So, Emotionally Weird. I kind of don’t even know where to start or what to say. It’s the story of Effie Andrews as told to her by her mother as well as told by herself to her mother, as well as the story she’s writing for a university creative writing course… So it’s one of those stories-within-a-story deals and also has a healthy dose of metafiction, where zany things happen that pull you out of one story into another, all of which seem to cause layers of reality to shift and resettle so that even though the entire thing is fiction, you find yourself believing it could be real until something happens to remind you that it can’t. It’s also one of those stories where the narrative meanders about a bit, which isn’t to say there isn’t a central thread that the reader must clasp like Theseus did Ariadne’s guiding lifeline, for there is, it’s just that it takes a while (and myriad detours) to get there. It is a 450 page novel based on an origin myth as Effie searches to know herself and her own story, where she came from, where she’s going. Reading it reminded me a lot of Scarlett Thomas’s Our Tragic Universe in that the two are similar in terms of their sense of aimlessness that coalesces into something larger and they both pervade you with the sense that you should be bored with them, only to find you are instead riveted. If I had my choice between the two, however, I’d pick Emotionally Weird a thousand times over and would be happy to read it over and over again. It’s just a quirky oddball of a book that made me happy to read as it simultaneously baffled and delighted me. This is the second non-crime Atkinson novel I’ve read and now I’m so excited to read Human Croquet, her only non-series novel left that I’ve yet to read. If you’ve only read her Jackson Brodie stuff, you are doing yourself a disservice because her other novels are SO GOOD. And if you’ve not read her at all, you must do so post haste! I realize this review is very much a babbling deluge of effusiveness but it’s so rare I get this excited about a book. It’s one of those smart books that lets you in on all of its inside jokes and secrets so you actually feel breezily smart while reading it rather than bogged down in mental turpitude. And if you don't believe me, or have no idea what I've been warbling on about (who can blame you? I've gone all fan-girly!), go read Teresa's review at Shelf Love. She loved it too. What else do you need to know? Just this:  Love La Atkinson. Wonderful lady author who makes me proud to have a vagina. (Too much?) Rating: 4.5 out of 5

25 Comments

  1. 12/08/2010

    Hooray for Kate Atkinson! As we’ve discussed before, I loved her crime fiction, but it’s nothing to how much I loved this book and Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I do wish they got as much attention as the Brodie books–and I hope she returns to these kinds of books at some point.

  2. 12/08/2010

    First, I love the title Emotionally Weird. 😀

    Second, I’ve never even heard of this author. What would you recommend for me to read? Not the mystery stuff though…

  3. 12/08/2010

    Both books you mentioned are totally new to me! thanks for the heads up.

    I have posted a giveaway on my blog – a gift card sponsored by CSN Stores. Please come over and enter!

  4. 12/08/2010

    Ha ha ha, Steph, your final non-parenthetical sentence there turns your fangirly post into one of the most memorable of my year. Awesome ending! P.S. The book sounds good, too–almost forgot to tell you! 😀

  5. 12/08/2010

    “What else do you need to know?”
    Not a thing. A deluge of effusiveness (when it’s obviously sincere) gets me every time.
    ::heads for the “A”s, amongst which Emotionally Weird has sat, neglected, for too many years::

  6. 12/09/2010

    @ Teresa: I realize I’m completely the outlier in terms of not liking her crime fiction, but she more than makes up for that (in my eyes) with her non-crime stuff. I really hope she hasn’t completely thrown over this type of writing for her Brodie series, because I NEED to read more books like this!
     
    @ Amanda: It is a great title, isn’t it? Of Atkinson’s non-crime fiction, I’ve read this one and Behind the Scenes at the Museum and both were REALLY good. This one is definitely more experimental, while Museum is more of a family story about the women within a certain family, so I guess it depends what you’re in the mood for. Maybe start with Museum because it was her first book? Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong with Atkinson.
     
    @ Mystica: You really need to try Atkinson; she’s so smart and talented! More people need to read her!
     
    @ Richard: Glad my effusiveness did not eclipse the book itself! 😉 I worried I crossed a line at the end, but clearly I have not alienated my readers!
     
    @ BuriedInPrint: Sometimes when you love a book so much it’s hard to not just write a blathering, personal post. I didn’t even try to be objective this time, so I’m glad that people who haven’t read the book were able to get something good from my babbling! I really hope you like Emotionally Weird!

  7. 12/08/2010

    Good point – I’ve only read the Jackson Brodie stuff. Not sure why, because I really like her writing!

  8. 12/09/2010

    @ rhapsody: Sometimes I think I should give her Brodie stuff another try because I like her other writing so much… but then I think of what a snoozefest I found Case Histories and decide I am better off just sticking to what I like!
     
    @ Alex: I have read Museum and I really liked it and actually thought it had some lovely bits of writing so I am going to go up on a limb and agree that it was likely a bad translation you got. Maybe try it in English? Or just go for Emotionally Weird! So fun!
     
    @ zibilee: I think because one of the big themes in Behind the Scenes is the sense of finding oneself and being alienated (so far as I can remember) maybe there is a necessary disconnection that occurs, though one would hope to feel connected to the main character. I do recall liking it, but I do think I liked this one a lot more so I’d say give it a go (especially because I found it quite different from Museum).
     
    @ Stephanie: Yes, Atkinson’s detective fiction seems to be her most popular, but I always feel like that’s not who she really is as a writer. I personally found Case Histories pretty dull, but her other fiction I just can’t put down! Regardless of what you try, you definitely must read something by her!
     
    @ Sarah: While I’m prone to girl crushes, I completely stand by the end of my review! Since lately the book blogging world has been all in a tizzy about women not getting equal attention to men when it comes to writing, I figured I might as well emphasize that this is one writer with girl bits who is well worth reading!

  9. 12/09/2010

    I’ve only read Behind The Scenes At The Museum and forgot about it 2 minutes after finishing it. Honestly I can only remember that part of it was set in Edinburgh… or maybe not. What I suspect is that it was a really awful translation that sedated anything remotely creative in Atkinson’s writing.

    But Steph: I’m sold! I’ll give her another try with Emotionally Weird 🙂

  10. 12/09/2010

    The only Atkinson I have ever read was Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and while there were some parts that I really loved, there was something about the book that gave me a little feeling of disconnection. Since reading it several years ago, I have often thought that it was just a case of the wrong book at the wrong time, and have been eager to give Atkinson another chance, but the only other books I have ever seen reviewed were the Brodie books, and those just didn’t sound like my bag at all. All that being said, I am really glad to see this review, and am going to try to go for this book. I have a feeling that it will be met with much more success than the last one and I am very happy to see you were so thrilled with it. I always pay attention when you rave over books!

  11. 12/09/2010

    I have been meaning to read Kate Atkinson for a LONG time. I hadn’t heard of this particular title, but I will definitely keep it in mind when picking out one of her books. Originally, I had planned to read Case Histories, only because that is the one I see around the most.

  12. 12/09/2010

    Dang, I haven’t even registered this author. I feel like I’ve shelved her books during volunteering stints at my library, but haven’t ever cracked a book open. You definitely have my attention now! And hehe, the end of your review is awesome. 🙂

  13. 12/09/2010

    For some reason I have associated her name to chick lit — maybe because of the chick-lit-resque covers. Having heard you recommend this book in person makes me change my mind.

  14. 12/10/2010

    I have a collection of her short fiction, which is supposed to be excellent. I’m not sure what has kept me from it except tons of other books waiting in the wings. I didn’t even realize she wrote detective fiction!

  15. 12/10/2010

    @ matt: I’m pretty sure when I first picked up an Atkinson novel (her first) I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but even if you suspect it might be chick-litish, the first few pages of her writing will likely cause all thoughts of that ilk to vanish. She’s very good. If she chose to write chick lit, I’d probably read that too! 😉
     
    @ verbivore: I picked up that collection of short fiction too! I didn’t realize it was short fiction at the time, but I have no doubt it will be great. It sounds just a little left of center, which is the way I tend to like my short fiction!

  16. 12/10/2010

    Heh, I guess I’m one those vexing people who get excited about her crime novels 😀 I’ve tried Behind the Scenes at the Museum and couldn’t get into it, but then I read the first Brodie book and felt much nicer toward her 😉 I might just try her other works again.

  17. 12/10/2010

    I need to read her again at some point. I didn’t love Case Histories, although I seem to be in the minority on this one, and it sounds like I shouldn’t give up on her. Perhaps I will love her non-crime fiction.

  18. 12/11/2010

    I agree with you about Kate Atkinson. I read this one some time ago and thought it was excellent, and I rate her Behind the Scenes at the Museum as superb. A great author who always satisfies.

    A fine review too

  19. 12/11/2010

    I love the way you are all gushy over Atkinson because I love her writing too. I remember reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum and just being bowled over by her story and her writing which was so easy to read. I also like her mysteries so it’s all good for me. I haven’t read this one, but it’s going on my wishlist especially since you’ve compared it to Our Tragic Universe. I love books like that: aimless and questioning and something that just transports you.

  20. 12/12/2010

    I need to try again with Atkinson. I’ve very much enjoyed her short stories, but wasn’t keen on the Jackson Brodie series. Your review has made me want to read Emotionally Weird.

  21. 12/13/2010

    @ Bina: I don’t get annoyed by people who like her crime books, I just don’t consider myself one of them! I may try another of her Brodie novels some day!
     
    @ Dorothy: I didn’t love Case Histories either, so I think you may have much better luck with her other stuff; I vastly prefer it!
     
    @ Tom C: Yes, Atkinson is awesome! I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum almost 5 years ago, so I feel like I’ll need to re-read it soon! But first I’ll probably read Human Croquet!
     
    @ Nicola: I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed her short fiction as I inadvertently picked up that collection while at McKays (I didn’t fully read the back cover so I didn’t realize it wasn’t a novel until I got home!). I would strongly suggest you try some of her non-crime fiction as I think you’d really like it!
     
    @ Eva: Atkinson is an author that I often forget I love and then I read something by her and remember how awesome she is. Hopefully this post will serve as a more frequent reminder to us all!

  22. Eva
    12/12/2010

    I’ve read a couple of her books and loved them: I need to read the rest! 🙂

  23. Kathleen
    12/13/2010

    Love the last sentence of your review. I’m convinced!

  24. 12/13/2010

    “Why oh why don’t more people read Kate Atkinson?”

    I thought she only wrote detective fiction, which I really don’t enjoy! Who knew she wrote other things? I kind of love the title “Emotionally Weird,” as well as your description of the book. It’s on my TBR list now, so even if I don’t get to it right away, at least I won’t forget about it!

  25. […] ever since. It’s only fair I give her a second chance, especially after Steph’s review of Emotionally Weird. What’s your favorite by […]

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