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Emotionally Weird Hardcover – June, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Readers who survive the first 20 pages of this dense and playful novel, with its three different openings, constant jokes, and crowded cast of characters, will find themselves rewarded with a leisurely postmodern romp through the student ferment and bodily indulgences of the early 1970s. Although the publisher has called Emotionally Weird a comic novel, it is essentially unclassifiable, both further-reaching and less "meaningful" than it first appears. Kate Atkinson's book begins with chapter 1 of a bad murder mystery being written by Effie Andrews for a creative-writing course at the University of Dundee in 1972. But the action soon shifts to a wintry island in the Hebrides, where Effie is trying to elicit the story of her parentage from her single mother, Nora, while spinning a humorous first-person narrative of her college life. Only near the end of the book does she finally wrench the story from her mother: Effie's bizarre origins; the identity of her father; and the whole unlikely tale of her mother's family.

Like a Borgesian labyrinth, with other stories thrown in, including a laughably convenient introduction of magic realism, it is impossible to know what to take seriously--or "jocoseriously," to paraphrase another of Atkinson's influences: the Joyce of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. In her third novel, much of Atkinson's humor is incidental, even parenthetical. (We are told in passing, for example, that Effie's dissertation is called "Henry James: Man or Maze?") She is at her best when introducing her eccentric characters, such as the elderly Professor Cousins, who is sometimes lucid, sometimes not. "As with anyone in the department," Effie explains, "it wasn't always easy to distinguish between the two states. The university's strict laws of tenure dictated that he had to be dead at least three months before he could be removed from behind his desk." Professor Cousins, like the author, enjoys word games along the order of those in Alice in Wonderland, and Atkinson's use of Scottish idiom comes to function as a sort of word game. She also brings in a few killjoys (a militant feminist, a militant Christian, a literary theorist) to complicate an already loopy narrative and to spike the punch.

Janice smelt of piety and coal tar soap. She had recently become a Christian, a neophyte of a student Christian fellowship whose members roamed the corridors of Airlie, Belmont and Chalmers Halls looking for likely converts (the afraid, the alone, the abandoned) and those who needed to use the Bible to fill in the spaces where their personalities should have been.
As Emotionally Weird develops, Atkinson relies more and more on the postmodern gag of characters commenting on the unfolding action. There is no telling how she finally draws these disparate threads onto a single spool, but in the end, even the slightest subplots are neatly tied up and the most transient characters accounted for. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

When Atkinson's first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, beat out Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh for the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, a controversy in the British press ensued. But this imaginative and unconventional writer strikes back at her detractors in her third book (after Human Croquet), skewering the academic literary establishment with understated but spot-on humor, while telling an imaginative tale both outrageously funny and poignantly human: Tom Robbins meets John Irving. Euphemia "Effie" Andrews, a 21-year-old Scot and student at the University of Dundee, arrives at a remote, barren Scottish island to swap life stories with her mother, Nora. Effie comes with a slew of tales about the free-love and druggy chaos of her early 1970s college life, and also armed with questions for Nora, determined to learn the truth about their family history. That is, if Nora is her mother, and if any of the stories either of them tell are true ("My mother is a virgin"). These are unreliable narrators in top form, keeping readers guessing delightedly throughout. The author uses different fonts to intertwine several narratives, including hilarious entries from Effie's, and her classmates', novels-in-progress, while these excerpts are interrupted by Nora's snide commentary. Effie's academic hijinks may be a bit exaggerated, since she's slogging along on a paper on George Eliot while living with occasional electricity and a continually stoned boyfriend. But truly alarming things are happening in Dundee: someone is killing residents of a retirement home, and a strange woman is following Effie. While the narrators' constant backtalk can be tiresome, Atkinson's clever and sophisticated prose preserves the voices' sparkling energy. Readers may guess the family secret before it is revealed, but that doesn't steal any thunder from the unsettling and utterly original denouement. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador USA; 1 edition (June 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312203241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312203245
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By jmz VINE VOICE on July 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I will admit, it was really hard to continue reading Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson. You're immediately thrown into several stories -- stories that are told within stories and stories that aren't. It's hard to figure out what's going on when, who is who, why you're even reading the book. But believe me, you must continue reading...it's worth it in every way.
I think the parts that I love the most are when Effie's "mother" Nora interrupts her story telling of her experience at the University. Nora's quips are perfect ("does this story have a plot?," "There are too many characters and I can't keep them straight," and "No! Don't kill of Olivia!") for how I felt as a reader. Effie's story (which is a huge chunk of the book) is really funny. Atkinson holds a dry wit that just continues to roll with each page.
And the end...yes, there is an ending, and yes, everything pulls together more coherently than you could ever imagine. I won't say anything more about the ending. If your fear is that you won't be able to get through Emotionally Weird, then just take heed that it will all make sense in the end and you should just keep plugging along.
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Format: Paperback
To say this is a book in which on a deserted Scottish island Effie and her mother tell stories about their lives is to give a completely wrong impression of this book...
it's more like Italo Calvino in the way it plays with a bunch of different narratives. Most of the book is 20-year old Effie's story.. it's 1972, and she's an unmotivated student at the University of Dundee. Her chapters, "Chez Bob" (Bob is her Star Trek-obsessed boyfriend she's too lethargic to leave) are hilarious... the descriptions of her friends and the nonsensical situations and conversations will be familiar to anyone who's ever been to college, anywhere. The excerpts from tutorials (we'd call them seminars" she half-heartedly participates on are exact and funny. They also provide an excuse to show excerpts from the mystery novel she's writing, the fantasy a friend is writing and a mysterious novel that seems to have supernatural powers taht one of the professors is working on. Every time we get to an excerpt, the font changes, which is a clear and delightful device
For all that the book plays with reality, it still remains clear and not mystified and annoying. Every now and then we return to the remote Scottish island (the font is more stark there, too) and we get little glimpses of Nora's story as Effie tries to get the story of her birth... Nora is a Virgin and as the book goes on we realize Nora is not her mother... also in Effie's story she is being followed by a mysterious woman...
all of these threads are tied together brilliantly by the end in a conclusion that is logical and satisfying.
We also get a brief epilogue set in 1999, largely excerpts from the now-published writings of Effie and her friends, which is short and funny.
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Format: Hardcover
When this book came out in the UK in May I was so excited, I even bought it in hardback. Kate Atkinson is that rare writer - one who knows as much about writing as how to write, and she shows this to advantage in an extremely clever book. She veers on the self-indulgent with her myriad storylines interweaving in and out of this book, but her charm and great good humour shine throughout; and I greatly regretted that we did not see more of her lead character's gloriously campy and wickedly parody-like detective novel. The word games and language play which characterise Atkinson are not so subtle as they were in "Human Croquet" (which still remains her best novel) but they still provide a source of much enjoyment and delight; amusing us as much as they entertain the brain and make the reader think. She is one of our greatest modern writers, and even if Emotionally Weird is not as good as her last two books (Human Croquet, and Behind The Scenes at the Museum, which latter is much praised by people and described as "The perfect novel") , and is, undeniably, flawed in some ways - The symbolism and development of Atkinson's storyline, with the private eye and the yellow dog, is not as clear cut as one would wish for. However - and this is the truly magical thing - with an Atkinson novel, you can re-read it and everything suddenly becomes different. Words dropped here and there become surprisingly important, dialogue leaps into focus, things you ignored suddenly force themselves into your consciousness a second time around. The book grips the brain as much as it thrills and mystifies, entertains and satisfies. Not only is it extremely funny, extremely baffling, and extremely intelligent, but it is extreme in its own right.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I had a hard time getting into this book - too many characters introduced all at once and so briefly that I couldn't keep them straight. I'm glad I stuck with it though because about halfway through, I got drawn into the story and the strange and quirkly happenings. Atkinson is a really funny writer and I laughed outloud several times throughout the book. Although I really enjoyed the second half of the book, I was disappointed in the ending - well not the ending itself but the way the last chapter gives you all the answers to everything instead of giving more hints along the way so the reader could figure it out.
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