Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When Will There Be Good News?

Over the weekend I read what has to be one of the best books published this year. It was Kate Atkinson’s stunning new novel When Will There Be Good News?

Atkinson just gets better and better with every book. This latest is a positive tour de force – a powerful, exquisitely plotted page turner.

The third, and perhaps the last Jackson Brodie mystery, this one is much darker than
One Good Turn, and the reader indeed does wonder for most of the book, when there will be good news, as violence and disaster dog the path of the main characters.

Several characters from the previous Jackson Brodie novels appear in this one. Louise Monroe, the feisty police inspector is one, as is of course Jackson Brodie. There are two new main characters/narrative paths in Joanna Mason/Hunter and Reggie Chase who engage the reader’s attention pretty well instantly. Reggie Chase the sixteen-year-old, who looks fourteen, is a beautifully drawn character and reminded me somewhat of Kate in Catherine O’Flynn’s novel What Was Lost, also an excellent novel with an Atkinson sensibility.

Kate Atkinson has an amazing ability to get inside her character’s heads as she tracks their thoughts in internal monologues that paint with words everything important there is to know about them – their inner psychological persona and personal history. This is standard in Atkinson’s books, but she does it so well it is part of the addiction that her readers have for her books. That Jackson has the
The Lyke-Wake Dirge running though his head just before he is involved in a potentially fatal situation is a wonderful touch in the light of what ensues.

Though the theme of When Will There Be Good News? is dark, there is ironical humour throughout as the characters contend with the darkness and misfortune of their lives.

The book opens with a violent murder - the random slaughter of innocents by a mad man - thirty years before the main action of the novel begins, another common trope of Atkinson’s, which is nonetheless effective as a hook on which to hang a plot, as indeed this crime does.

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It is a literate, beautifully written, darkly comic thriller. Perhaps some of the coincidences are a bit far fetched, but such is Atkinson’s art, you don’t really mind at all, as there is a certain satisfaction to be derived from such collisions between characters and events and you willingly suspend disbelief.

Kate Atkinson will be in Australia next week for the Melbourne Writers Festival. As part of a birthday present, along with the novel, a friend gave me a ticket to one of her appearances in conversation with local writer Catherine Cole. It’s something to look forward to in the near future.

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