Kate Atkinson is the author of several novels, including Behind the Scenes at the Museum, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Not the End of the World, Case Histories, One Good Turn, and Life after Life. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Stories within stories clutter the landscape of this second novel by Atkinson, whose Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Award in 1995. It is 1972, and 20-year-old Effie and her 37-year-old mother, Nora, are holed up in the family cottage on a forsaken Scottish island, where they tell each other the secret details of their lives, sometimes truthfully, sometimes not. Effie's narration concerns her and her slovenly, oddball University of Dundee classmates, detailing bits and pieces of their master's theses in between scenes of their dodging the homework demands of their psychologically messy professors. Nora is equally cagey about her own story, which ultimately reveals the identity of Effie's father. Atkinson is a clever writer, suffusing her work with fresh humor, sharp word play, and the occasional touch of magic realism. But readers will find themselves agreeing with Nora's directional asides to Effie (speed up the pace, too many characters) as they stay with this overlong tale, hoping for more surprises than there are. For larger libraries.--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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 Cahners Business Information.
"A sparkling comic meditation on how authors choose to tell their stories." --Entertainment Weekly (grade: A-)"...Reads like the fictional equivalent of a magic trick; you might wonder how she pulls it off, but you're certain to marvel at the results." --Harper's Bazaar"A full-bore, old-fashioned yarn--the kind that keeps you turning pages, hurrying toward the denouement long after you've told yourself you're going to bed." --The Washington Post Book World"Beautifully written...brimming with quirky characters and original storytelling.... Kate Atkinson has struck gold with this unique offering." --Time Out"Atkinson has found her best subject...a truly funny comic novel." --Newsday