Top critical review
Does a novel need a plot?
Reviewed in the United States on May 6, 2013
Effie, the heroine of this novel, is at Dundee University for much of the book. At one point a professor says, "Perhaps it's not the job of fiction to make sense of the world." I suspect this novel may be more about the art of writing fiction than it is about the lives of characters. And it certainly makes no attempt to make sense of the world. If you happen to be taking a creative writing course, I think you might find this book fascinating.
The writing is brilliant; the sketches of characters are clever and funny. But the bizarre incoherence of the narration makes the book tough going. There's the story of Effie's weird experiences in college, and the story of Effie's life with her mysterious mother on a remote Scottish island, and snatches from a detective novel that Effie's writing, and excerpts from dreadful novels being written by other students and teachers. There are several characters (students) who are constantly falling asleep at odd moments. I'm afraid this kept happening to me too as I read the book.
Nothing significant happens for over three hundred pages. Then we encounter not so much a happening, as a revelation of what happened in the past. Is this a plot? I'm not sure. According to Effie, plot development "is not necessary in this post-modern day and age." But I like plots.
And so I did not find this book very satisfying, despite the dazzling charm of the prose style. Perhaps this is a literary satire, and in my hedonistic desire for entertainment, I missed the point.
If you're new to Atkinson, I'd suggest reading her Jackson Brodie books, which are wonderful, instead of this book. The first one is Case Histories.