Friday, December 28, 2018

Kate Atkinson: Reading Back Titles

During the days between Christmas and the beginning of the new school year, that time when we lose track of what day it is, I love the luxury of guilt-free reading. I don't have to worry about the holiday shopping or cooking (maybe the cleaning--which never ends); I have my syllabus ready for my spring classes. I can just kick back with a book.

The biggest challenge, though, is deciding which book to read next. I don't follow any kind of logic; I just pick up what seems most appealing. I have several books still unread, but I had picked up a copy of Kate Atkinson's older novel Case Histories at the library's book sale back in October.  I have loved her books I've read--Life after Life (which I read twice) and Gods in Ruins. This one, though recommended by one of my favorite reading friends, had eluded me until now.

Atkinson's books never follow a simple plot line, but she never follows the same path twice. In this novel, she moves between three or four plots lines that seem unrelated: Olivia, the youngest of four girls who disappears from the tent where she and a sister are camping; Jackson Brodie, a recently divorced former policeman who has opened a private investigation office; Vic, an obese man whose favorite daughter Laura was murdered while working temporarily at this office, a newlywed forced to deal with her stepchildren and her judgmental new mother-in-law. Each of the plot lines involves unsolved or unexplained murders.

Brodie becomes the center of all the stories, as he is contacted by two of Olivia's sisters, now middle-aged and finding their sister's Blue Mouse doll after their father's death. They want to know the truth about their sister's disappearance. Vic too wants to find his daughter's killer, only identified by his yellow golf sweater.

In a fashion readers come to expect from Atkinson, details and characters are often not what as first appear. Since she shifts between the perspectives of several characters, readers feel almost like detectives, piecing together missing details as they are revealed. All of the characters have flaws; all hide secrets; all have a certain self-awareness.

Atkinson's writing sets the bar high. Readers may have a harder time settling for simple plots and characterization after inhabiting her narratives. Fortunately, readers don't have to wait for her next publication, since her new novel Transcriptions is one the bookstore shelves now.

No comments: