Tag Archives: Kate Atkinson

Shrines of Gaiety: Extremely Fun(ny)

I’m here to report that Kate Atiknson’s Shrines of Gaiety is extremely fun and funny. Though, if you are at all like me, it will take you 75 pages to figure that out. I started out thinking ‘this is Serious literary fiction’ (and it is literary fiction!) and set in London after World War One and about gender politics and gangsters and so must be Dull But Important. Persist, dear reader, persist.

It is funny, smart, playful and entirely absorbing.

Perhaps another reason why it takes a bit of time to get your bearing in the book is that it flits chapter by chapter through third person limited narration among a motley cast of characters all interwoven with one another in the setting of London’s night clubs: a runaway teen ager arrived in London to find her fortune as an actress (spoiler: she does not find her fortune as an actress so much as nearly starve on the streets); a once-impoverished parochial librarian arrived in London with her fortune to take up a job as a spy (!); a newly arrived Detective Inspector tasked with solving a spate of murders; the head of a string of night clubs, Nellie Corker, who sees ghosts, reads fortunes and machinates to maintain her power; and the passel of Corker’s children half of whom are indistinguishable and the other half sharp and bright.

Threads of murder and mystery, romance, debauchery (a baby party! where adults dress as babies and fancy around with nannies and opium), theft, corruption and scheming. Delightful for the fun of it all, but woven through with substantial questions of how a society (or an individual) responds after a great trauma (say a giant war and then an influenza pandemic), of how that generation of women and men change as a consequence – both in expectations for their lives but of their roles in politics and the economy, of how little we can rely on the police.

I can’t promise you’ll love it, but I do think that if you make it through the first hundred pages without laughing you’re probably a bad reader and should just quit.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical Fiction, Funny, Prize Winner

Forgive me: Not a book, but a Plea

People. I have been reading. A lot! And not posting. I don’t know why. Must be something  about the summer night and just wanting to read more on the patio. Whatever the reason, I’ve read a bunch of things and I’m too overwhelmed by the backlog and I’m headed out on holiday in a couple of days, so I’m only going to read more, so the only thing to do is plea for an amnesty, and just tell you the things I’ve read/try to remember the  things I’ve read:

This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper: I remember it was about a dysfunctional family gathered to sit shiva after their dad dies. And it was funny. And sort of silly, but mostly funny. Oh and about divorce and life falling apart. And like my life is mostly together but I could relate. Beach worthy? Maybe.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears – Dinaw Mengestu: Ethiopian refugee to Washington meets a fancy white lady and her kid. There’s something like a romance, but the whole novel is weighted with the certainty that none of this is going to work out, and it’s a protracted ending and you’re like does he kill himself in the end or try again or does it matter. Super… uplifting? No.

Big Sky – Kate Atkinson: Mystery! By one of my more preferred authors. But it was only okay. Like I didn’t really care much about any of the characters, which is surprising because there’s enough detail and slowed down timelines that I should, but maybe it was  because this is one of a  series and it was my first one so I was missing the part of caring about the detective? Anyway. Just, meh,

I think there was one more. It had a red cover. But it’s lost to me and the world now. I’ll do better while I’m on holiday. Really! Maybe. Mostly forgive this terrible post. Remember those other ones where I had smart, funny things to say. Right? Maybe.

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Transcription: Spies in Every Day Life; or, Is Alexa Always Listening (yes)

Lady spies! Double agents! Domestic espionage! Kate Atkinson’s Transcription is a little burst of historical fiction delight. Principally set in the opening months of the Second World War (with some delightful temporal jumps to the 1950s and 1980s to add layers of complexity and trickiness), it follows Juliette Armstrong as she enters MI5 as a secretary-turned-undercover-agent and then follows her journey through the early years of the war and her first (only? no spoilers) mission for M15.

The novel refuses the reader’s desire for espionage to be all-glamorous or all-action, and instead gives refinement to the role of the spy by spending time with the slow details of waiting, watching, listening, and the necessarily ‘domestic’ tasks of caring relationships among and between members of the service. In this space Atkinson does particularly well, as the writing of each character is rich and full, as well as peppered with humour and sensitivity. Readers expecting explosions or middle-of-the-night hostage-taking would best look elsewhere though, as the plot unfolds here at a much gentler pace, and the ‘climactic’ moment in Juliette’s mission is somewhat… anti-climactic.

What it does especially well is revel in the genre of historical fiction. Freely inventing, while staying true to the spirit of the historical moment. There’s much to be admired in the way Atkinson balances what we do know about Armstrong’s particular mission (or ones like it) and what is likely to be true, as well as what makes sense for exploring the complexities of gender and sexuality in that moment (as in ours).

I was a big fan of Atkinson’s other major WWII novel, Life After Life, and like that one, Transcription takes a bit of time to feel fully committed. That said, if you’re partial to the slower burn, the witty, and the brilliantly historical, then off you go. Read!

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prize Winner

One Good Turn: Why Does My Cat Lick Off All Her Leg Fur, And Other Pressing Mysteries

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Without knowing it I stumbled into a mystery series. Typical Sunday library book browsing: I was looking for Kate Atkinson’s God in Ruins for book club (and to follow-up on my enjoyment of Life After Life) and it wasn’t where it should be on the shelf. Instead I found One Good Turn with the handy (thanks, library staff) “mystery” sticker on the spine. And I thought, yeah, okay, I’m in for a mystery.  Continue reading

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery