I am Isobel Fairfax, I am the alpha and omega of narrators . . . and I know the beginning and the end. The beginning is the word and the end is silence. And in between are the stories. This is one of mine.
Atkinson’s second novel is even trippier and stranger than her first book, which was pretty odd at times. Once again, the book is narrated by a young woman and it’s taken up with the mystery of her odd family. This sounds, so far, exactly like Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but this book is not as frequently heartbreaking, but still just as often hilarious. And it’s weirder, like I say. Isobel Fairfax is a young girl growing up. Her mother has disappeared so long ago that she no longer remembers her and she is desperate to know her mother’s fate. Likewise, Isobel is given to slipping through time, suddenly turning a corner, for instance, and finding herself in Shakespeare’s time. And then . . . well, let’s just say there’s a section about a Christmas party that I’m not even going to ruin for you, just . . . it’s ******* amazing and confounding and mind-blowing all at once. This book is less cohesive than Behind the Scenes at the Museum; I confess that I honestly didn’t understand a fairly large chunk of the last thirty pages or so. I couldn’t tell you what happens in those pages really and I also couldn’t really answer some of the questions people might expect to be answered. Take the Christmas party section for instance; I have no idea what was actually going on there. I couldn’t tell you what sense it made from a plot standpoint or from a metaphorical one either really. And frankly I don’t even know what I’m to make of Isobel Fairfax herself by the end of the book. But Atkinson’s writing is just so sharp and witty and immersive that I still absolutely love this book. If you’re a literalist or you just really can’t stand it when plot strands aren’t explained or wrapped up, then this is probably not the book for you. If, on the other hand, you like some magical realism and ambiguity sometimes, then this could not be a better book for you. This is a real masterpiece. It’s clear that this isn’t just a writer being weird for the sake of being weird. Everything in this book is there for a reason. I think it’s a book that would get better with every re-reading; I think a second, third, fourth reading would reveal more and more depth to the book, rather than simply unmasking Atkinson as a fraud. Regardless, it’s a magnificent book. On to the next one! 4 stars.
tl;dr – Atkinson outdoes her first novel for weirdness, trippiness and opacity, but the book is a brilliant experience if you simply let go of everything and let the current carry you. 4 stars.