Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read — funny, insightful, and with a brilliantly twisty plot. I read her second novel, Case Histories, and thought it was really good although not as powerful as Behind the Scenes. So I had fairly high expectations of Emotionally Weird.
Probably the most accurate thing I can say is that Emotionally Weird is aptly named. It’s not a good title, but the book is definitely weird. More literarily than emotionally, though.
Atkinson is trying to do something interesting here, and there are moments of brilliance, but overall the effect just doesn’t come together. The main character, Effie, is learning the story of her own past from her mother Nora, while at the same time telling Nora a long, meandering story about her university classmates and professors. There are wickedly funny sketches threaded into these stories, and some lovely playing with language, but the whole adds up to far less than the sum of its parts. My main irritation was that the story Effie is telling Nora is completely pointless and goes nowhere — which may be precisely what Atkinson intended, but as a reader I felt let-down and cheated. Emotionally Weird had some really intriguing moments, but it won’t linger in my mind the way Behind the Scenes at the Museum has done for years.