Have been a bold girl and not got much read this month… I think I know what my New Year’s Resolution is.
Emotionally Weird is Kate Atkinson’s third novel, set in a wild Scottish island in the 1970s. Effie and her mother Nora are slowly starving to death while awaiting the end of winter, and to pass the time they tell each other stories. Effie tells us all about her life in Dundee University, digressing into the novel she’s penning for her creative writing course, as well as the novels of her classmates (all of which are terrible). Effie is in a pointless relationship with the lethargic stoner Bob, and hangs around with goth dog-lover Terri.
But strange things are happening. Effie is being followed, the old people are convinced they’re being killed off, and who is this detective who keeps turning up?
Emotionally Weird is all the power of words and stories and the versions of ourselves we present to the world. Atkinson tries to play with notions of meta-fiction and postmodernism. Unfortunately, she doesn’t always pull it off. There are some great observations and descriptions in the Dundee chapters (Atkinson herself studied there). Anyone who has ever been to college will recognise some aspects of the experience that never change (damp, substandard accomodation, worsened by the constant electricity strikes in Britain in 1970s), we all knew a Bob or two, and the rubbish spouted by Effie’s lecturers has only worsened in the intervening decades.
The main issue with the book is the fact that scene after scene is repeated, in a slightly different way, throughout. We see Bob getting stoned at Effie’s house again and again, Professor Cousins (who moves like an ‘inept Dalek’) worry that someone is trying to kill him again and again, and the Lord of the Rings tribute act in Effie’s writing class get slated for his sword-and-sorcery epic again and again.
The central mystery of Effie’s parentage (and who’s killing all those old people) is revealed in a couple of sentences. It’s a pity, because there’s a great story lurking in Emotionally Weird, and when it’s good, it’s very good indeed, with touches of Alice in Wonderland surrealism and comedy. Atkinson knows her setting inside out and she manages to turn the power outages into something oddly creepy.
It’s a book which could have done with a blunt editor. Oh, and please, if you’re a writer reading this, no more incest as the central mystery of your tale. Especially the type of incest that sees a brother and sister just suddenly decide to have a relationship because they’re dark and evil. It’s overdone, pretty icky and unbelievable. If incest was as common in real life as it is in mid-market fiction, there’d be no taboo at all.
A beast of a completely different hue is Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. I finally got around to reading the book of this after hero-worshipping Jennifer Lawrence for quite a while, and I have to say I was hooked (I’m on Catching Fire now). In case you are even more behind the times than I am, The Hunger Games is an annual competition for the twelve districts of Panem (a country once known as the United States). It involves two ‘tributes’ from each district fighting to the death in a specially constructed arena in Panem’s Capitol.
This book is every bit as dark as it sounds and to Collins’ credit, she doesn’t shy away from the horrors of her dystopian world, even though the book is aimed at teens. However, it’s the brave and noble heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who shines through all the darkness and grabs the reader by the hand. An unputdownable tale, and how marvellous a book like this is such a global hit after the asinine, anodyne vampires of Twilight.