I can’t remember what I’m looking for . . . but I’ll know it when I find it.
Emotionally Weird is Kate Atkinson’s third novel and there’s just a ton of stuff going on with this one. She’s subtitled it as a “comic novel,” but what she really means is that there’s none of the aching sorrow that pervades her other novels. Her books have always been hilarious; it’s just they’ve always also been incredibly sad. But this book follow a woman writing a book. Well, let’s see here. Our main character, Effie Stuart-Murray, is hunkered down in a stone cottage on an island off the coast of Scotland with her mother; she’s writing a book about the strange things that happened to her while she was in college. So, we get a frame story and then the main story; so far, meta enough, but it turns out that Effie was taking a writing course in college, so we get lengthy passages of the novel she was writing in the main story, along with excerpts from other novels being written by her fellow students and teachers. It’s kind of Inception-like; there are at least three layers here. So, of course, in the frame story, Effie and her mother discuss the main story in which Effie and her friends discuss the third level of stories. It’s all very meta, but it’s also nothing short of side-splittingly hilarious. It’s a book filled with misadventures involving dognapping, stakeouts, drownings and the incredible stresses of having a paper on Middlemarch way, way overdue. Effie is an appealing, really lovable character and Atkinson has populated the book with a series of wildly entertaining supporting characters. There’s Chick, a disheveled and depressed private detective; lazy pot-head/boyfriend Bob, the completely unrelated characters of Watson Grant & Grant Watson. And, most of all, one of the best characters I’ve encountered in I don’t know how long, the brooding American exchange student, goth extraordinaire Terri, nothing short of a force of nature. Anyway, this book is the funniest I’ve read in a very long time and Atkinson keeps thing surprisingly light and the moments of magical realism and meta elements add up to an intoxicating brew. No surprise, given how I’ve taken to Atkinson, but here it is: 4 stars.
tl;dr – “comic novel” eschews Atkinson’s usual darkness to deliver a rollicking hilarious misadventure about university life that also functions as a brilliantly constructed literary experiment. 4 stars.