Kate Atkinson When Will There Be Good News? (2008)
"A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen."
Another brilliant Kate Atkinson book. Is it really crime fiction? It's so clever, so literary. I've mentioned before how attracted I am to authors who get to grips with the issue of coincidence in their narratives, in the sense of the way that coincidence is used as a device to achieve, e.g., narrative closure. Atkinson's previous Jackson Brodie novel, One Good Turn was a tour de force in terms of the use of coincidence to drive a narrative, and When Will There Be Good News? likewise does not disappoint. There is a sense, when reading an Atkinson book, that the reader's journey, despite its apparent twists-and-turns, is really a perfect circle: all of the multiple beginnings will connect at the ends; there is a perfection in her construction that makes her books such satisfying reads because they just shouldn't work out like that - but they do.
Atkinson's characters are so interesting too: all flawed and a bit odd and always in the right/wrong place at the wrong/right time. Their timing is always just a bit out. Or is it fate, or luck?
She had made a terrible mistake, hadn't she? She had married the wrong man. No, no, she had married the right man, it was just that she was the wrong woman.
Death is the only (near-) certainty in these books.
Jackson Brodie is woven through the action in this book, but it is the women characters who take centre stage: DCI Louise Monroe (a welcome return), battling her with her new role as a Good Wife; Reggie Chase, a very old sixteen years; Dr ('call me Jo') Hunter, survivor of a terrifying childhood ordeal. What will someone do to survive, to protect their children?
A sub-text of men who endanger children, especially their own children, runs under the narrative as a menacing sub-text. The welfare of the weak becomes secondary to the men's needs (for money; for revenge; and even for no reason at all in the case of the psychopath who destroys Joanna's family) and Brodie himself is not entirely innocent. But it is the women who shine as the Furies, the Maenads, the avenging angels, the conquering queens.
This is a funny book too, though very dry in its humour: "a speeding motorcyclist hurtled past, eager to donate an organ in time for someone's Christmas".
He was going to quote himself to death if he wasn't careful.
The classical themes in this book kept popping up and surprising me: "Reggie's life was like the Ilian plain, littered with the dead". As someone with shelves filled with volumes of the Loeb Classical Library (like the crazy Ms MacDonald but, not, as far as I know, filled with heroin), I'm hoping that Atkinson has inspired all of her readers to go pick up an ancient classic. And, no it's not cheating to read a translation.
Rating: 10/10. I'm starting to worry that it's ages since I've read a lousy book.
If you liked this... I'm ordering the next one, enticingly entitled Started Early, Took My Dog.