Monday, 6 June 2016

Book review: When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. When she turned her talents to crime fiction with Case Histories she brought her wonderful skills to that genre, but it is with the third installment of the Jackson Brodie series that she’s really blown it out of the water.

The book opens with a prologue set 30 years ago, with Atkinson showcasing her complete mastery of character and the seemingly effortless way she builds a scene so real we are immersed in it. A woman takes her three young children for a walk in the Devon countryside. They are displaced from London due to her absent husband’s whim and she is at once trying to keep the children active and entertained, make the most of the situation and walk off her obvious frustration. As with the rest of the book, each piece of description and dialogue and inner monologue or realisation tells us all of this, every bit building and advancing the story (although you might not realise it for a long time) but utterly subtle and realistic. So beautifully and immersively is this scene constructed, the brutal denouement is like punch in the stomach.

The rest of the novel is in the present day and, while the first chapter features the titular main character of the series, Jackson Brodie himself is absent or, at most, on the periphery, throughout the great majority of the story. Instead, we see the tale unfold largely through the eyes of Brodie’s erstwhile colleague/sparring partner/potential love interest DCI Louise Monroe and sixteen-year-old Regina (Reggie) Chase. Reggie is a wonderful character, caught in between so many different worlds; looking younger than she is but wiser than her years, a working class girl who had received a scholarship to a posh school but had to drop out, her mother has recently - suddenly - died and Reggie lives in the unchanged flat with the ghosts of her memory and has a job as a babysitter and home help for Dr Joanna Hunter, who is posh and beautiful and capable and Reggie’s ideal mother figure.

This is a literary novel both in that it is in the literary genre and in the quality of the writing, but it is also definitely a mystery novel. The story unfolds like a puzzle-box, every part of the story intertwining (most often in entirely unexpected ways) and with clues laid out in full view that the reader only realises were clues when the subtle “TA-DA!” of revelation occurs. As well as enmeshing the stories of Louise, Reggie, Jackson and Joanna Hunter (along with Louise’s new, too-perfect husband, and her colleagues, Reggie’s millennialist classics tutor and her criminal, possibly sociopathic, brother, Joanna’s upwardly-mobile, wide-boy Glaswegian husband) she weaves them together thematically - motherhood and loss, partnership and the suitability or otherwise of our choices, the risks posed to women by strangers and those close to them.

This is a terrific book, up there with Behind the Scenes and her more recent, much- and rightly-lauded Life After Life. Every character is built with depth and breadth (even Sadie, Dr Hunter’s German Shepherd) and the way every aspect interweaves - plot and character, motivation and theme, even location - is breathtaking, but done so well and so subtly that it is only breathtaking in retrospect. The resolution of the mystery is truly shocking at the same time as being utterly right and the bow on top is the final paragraph of the penultimate chapter which brings everything full circle and where you realise that Jackson Brodie is the central thread in the tapestry, after all.

You should read this, it is wonderful.


( first published on goodreads )

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