Being Emily by Anne Donovan
[Narrator Fiona is at Art school in her home town of Glasgow]
I loved being an art student. Loved carrying a portfolio under my airm, wearing paint-spattered jeans and above all walking up they steps every morning to a building designed by one of the greatest architects ever…
My style was changing too. Insteid of baggy trousers I’d started to wear tighter jeans and I searched charity shops for floral dresses which I customised and wore over them. I tied scarves round my hair and clipped diamante earrings to the lapel of an auld velvet jacket. I was dead chuffed with myself as I looked into the blotched mirror on the back of the door, getting ready to go out. The turquoise and green jewel colours made my hair look less drab and I’ve even started slicking a bit of shiny eyeliner on my lids, using red lipgloss instead of Vaseline. [My twin sisters] noticed the change with interest but just as much disapproval as they had for my usual look.
Christ Fiona, you look like some auld hippy.
Check the bandana – you’ll be going on a demo next.
This book is written in a form of Glaswegian dialect, spelt phonetically, and it is a tribute to the writing and the story that this is not at all off-putting, and not at all difficult to read, even for non-Glaswegians. It is the story of a young woman growing up over ten years with her family, and is rooted in her love for Emily Bronte. Yes, that description could go either way couldn’t it? But this, and Anne Donovan’s other novel, Buddha Da, are wonderful books, and it’s a travesty that they are not better known (although Buddha Da won a number of literary awards.) The setting couldn't be more different, but there is a resemblance to Jane Gardam's books of girls-growing-up. Being Emily deals very convincingly with a family tragedy and with Fiona’s relationships with boys. It is intriguing and fascinating in the descriptions of her artworks, and contains some lovely scenes – when she goes off to the Art School, her father makes her breakfast and gives her, wrapped up, ‘a pack of coloured pencils, the kind you get in Woolies when you’re starting school’, saying seein it’s your first day. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be touched. And it’s very funny. Oh just go and read it.
The picture shows the silent movie star Stacia Napierkowska, and comes from the Library of Congress via Flickr.