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Search tags: Kate-Atkinson
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review 2017-08-13 05:02
Many-Layered Mystery
One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson

Though he makes his living writing crime novels, Martin Canning is a shy, gentle man. But when he witnesses a road rage incident at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, he steps in to save a stranger from being beaten to death. The story begins in the point of view of the beaten man, and he does something for hire that’s on the shady side of the law, though the reader knows not what. The book also ends in his POV in a neat frame for the narrative, with a twist that ties up his role and reveals his trade, but also opens up a whole new set of questions as to who was chasing whom from the beginning.

 

Martin’s one good turn takes him into a labyrinth of troubles. Other witnesses to the same incident become the other major players in the story. The plot weaves their stories together, using all of their points of view. The incident is like an impact point of a meteor crash and or the center of a starburst pattern, and it’s also like the outer doll in the Russian nesting dolls that are a repeating image throughout the book. Each of these witnesses is a fascinating character drawn with depth and humor, especially Gloria, the resourceful and disillusioned wife of a corrupt tycoon. Jackson Brodie is sort of a part-time protagonist; it’s not uniquely his story. And it’s not a conventional murder mystery. The nested dolls of time and memory are part of the unusual structure. Sometimes this flashback technique works and sometimes it doesn’t. As Jackson muses on his relationship’s past joys and present difficulties, it works. When he thinks at length about the swimming pool at his house in France while trying to haul a dead body out of the sea at risk to his life, it’s not only implausible but kills the scene with loss of continuity and tension. As Gloria’s memories are gradually revealed, it seems contrived, because she’s not discovering insights. Although she encounters many new externals, as far as her internals go, she’s known all along exactly what drives her. The challenge for a writer using so many points of view is to keep secrets from the reader without making the reader aware of the author withholding information that is known to the POV character. Martin’s recollection of his trip to Russia is parceled out bit by bit, as if it were a new story in the background, a narrative with installments embedded into his ongoing experiences. Is it even a flashback? Realistically, it seems that every time something reminds him of the worst part of that trip, he would think directly about the specific event, not build up to it in a reconstruction of the entire journey. His fantasy life, however, is a wonderful creation, a revelation of his character, his self-image, and his psychological evolution.

 

There are two murders, but the instigating event is not the murder, and the plot doesn’t turn on finding out whodunit. There are layers of motives and connections to puzzle out, but it’s pretty obvious, after a while, who the killer is. That’s not a weakness in the story, in my opinion (though there are others).

 

The role of Tatiana, the Russian woman is ambiguous, and figuring her out might take a full rereading. I’m left wondering if the author knew everything this character was up to behind the scenes and thought the reader would get it, or if she simply found it convenient to have a character who remains mysterious, her actions and knowledge and connections not fully revealed. This is the second time I’ve read a book by this author that made me think she wrapped up loose ends offstage because she either ran out of space in her projected word count, didn’t have a solid solution and wanted to hide it, or wanted to leave the reader trying to figure out a lot she didn’t put in the story.

 

The endings of all the personal-life subplots are given the right degree of partial closure. There are implications of what could happen for Martin, for Jackson, for Gloria, and others, though no certainties. Again, Atkinson delivers characters who carry the story, brilliant writing, natural humor, and a complex but vaguely unsatisfactory plot. Once again, five-star characters, setting, and language and three-star story-telling and plot=four stars.

 

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review 2017-07-30 17:23
The Bad Luck Club
When Will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson

Some people have all the luck—the bad luck. And in this book, they find each other. The writing is so good and the characters so engaging, it didn’t matter in the long run that I occasionally wondered if that many bad things could really happen to people in close proximity with each other. Oddly enough, in such a feast of disasters, there’s also humor—not funny incidents, but perspectives on life and events as seen through the characters’ eyes. I loved teenaged Regina (Reggie) Chase, the ultimate plucky, spunky kid, but not a stereotype. I’d have followed her anywhere, no matter what the plot.

 

A couple of aspects of the mystery felt a little loose or not quite realistic. There was the matter of one man having another's driver’s license and not his own after nearly dying in a train crash. No one follows up on his missing credit cards or license for a long time. I kept thinking, “What about his credit cards?” and felt relieved when someone finally thought of it. A final twist in one of the layers of the romantic subplot struck me as impossible to pull off in the 21st century, though it probably could have been done fifty years ago, and an aspect of the mystery plot was deliberately left unexplained, something for the reader to figure out, with only a hint as to how it might have happened. Figuring it out would have meant going back through the book and piecing together the timelines of events and clarifying where the affected characters were at various times. The book was due back at the library, so I didn’t do this. (Maybe I’m dense and other readers got the explanation right away.) I wonder if the author felt the book was getting too long and decided the only way to tie up this thread was to dangle a hint about it, or if the unfinished, unexplained aspect was intentional, a secret one of the characters successfully kept from the police.

 

A narrative device that I had mixed feelings about was showing a scene in one character’s point of view, ending it, and then switching to a short recap from another POV as the transition to the next scene. I understand the urge to do that, but there are ways to suggest conflicting perceptions without retelling. I don’t mean omniscient head hopping, but choosing the POV of the person with the most at stake and then letting subtle details of expression or behavior on the part of the non-POV character imply what they might be thinking and feeling. This transition technique was not done too often, but it jumped out at me as something a writer would have to be famous and well-established to get away with. Others would be advised to pick up the pace.

 

Five stars for characters, dialogue and setting and three stars for plot=four.

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text 2017-03-23 15:59
Wow!
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

Just completely blown away by the ending of this book.

 

Recommended.

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text 2016-12-26 13:56
Reading progress update: I've read 352 out of 529 pages.
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

Loving the book, but I'm getting really pissed off with the phantom margin scribbler. When a book is written by an English author, set in England, and published in England, it is not incorrect to use "vice" rather than "vise" when talking about a person's grip.  

 

Oh, and "martial" was correct, so don't write "marital" in the margin, it makes you look like an idiot. 

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text 2016-12-23 01:57
Reading progress update: I've read 172 out of 529 pages.
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

She's got more lives than a cat has Ursula. She's been stillborn, suffocated by a cat, plunged off a roof, drowned, sucumbed to Spanish 'flu, and has just left the gas on in her flat. 

 

It obviously confused whoever had this library book before me because the margin is littered with questionmarks. 

 

Weird, but definitely a fun read so far.

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