I'm giving this post another airing because my daughter has added her comment. I am relieved to see that she agrees with my view of the book and that I wasn't just being a grumpy old woman!
Being Emily by Anne Donovan is due to be published by Canongate on 30th April and I have just finished reading the preview copy I received courtesy of Library Thing.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WHITBREAD FIRST NOVEL AWARD. SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORANGE PRIZE is blazoned across the cover of Being Emily but it refers, of course, to Anne Donovan's first novel, the highly acclaimed Buddha Da. It must have been very difficult to follow this successful debut: more of the same or something completely different?
Being Emily is set in contemporary Glasgow. The narrator is Fiona, a twenty-something installation artist, who describes her life through secondary school and art college, in the local working-class dialect. The book tackles major issues: a family tragedy, multiculturalism, same-sex parenthood, teenage pregnancy, betrayal but all addressed with warmth and humour. Anyone who has read Buddha Da will have realised by now that Anne Donovan chose the 'more of the same' approach for her second novel.
The book moves along at a lively pace with just a few halts for those of us who need to work out the meaning of the less obvious bits of dialect, such as 'gie a wean', 'hauf' and 'haund'. The characters are likeable but neither they nor their stories can be fully explored because of the use of the first-person narrator. The result is a rather unsatisfying glimpse into the lives of a group of ordinary people in very extraordinary situations.
The Emily of the title is Emily Bronte. We learn at the beginning of the book that Fiona is passionate about Emily Bronte and her work. I expected this to be a central theme but, apart from a school trip to Haworth, a visit to the National Portrait gallery to see Branwell's portrait of Emily and a very contrived link with the fire at the Bronte parsonage, there is nothing to explain the choice of title.
Anne Donovan is obviously a talented writer and I really wanted to enjoy this book but I found it very disappointing. Almost every character and circumstance begged to be developed. I wanted to hear Anne's own voice, not that of an immature girl - she has already given us that in her previous work. I hope that her next novel will live up to the promise that the Whitbread and Orange judges recognised.