Am picturing an ideal long weekend away from it all: plenty of Prosecco on tap, nearest and dearest in but also out of the picture/room (ideally providing something comforting like shepherd’s pie periodically), the rain pelting down so there’s absolutely no point in leaving a cosy corner for the Big Outdoors (oh how we have been enjoying the sunshine over the past few days here, mind) – and wall to wall Kate Atkinson. Can think of nothing better. Of course, you could go one better and read these four books and follow them up by then snuggling down to watch the two “Case Histories” ITV series on DVD. Bliss.
Jackson Brodie is possibly one of the best flawed literary heroes going. And he’s not half bad in the flesh as personified by Jason Isaacs either. Over the course of these four books I defy anyone not to fall head over heels with his battered character and wounded soul, not to lap up all of his curmudgeonly humour, his constant cock-ups on the female front (LOVE Amanda Abbington in this part, could not ‘ship it’ more), and above all Brodie’s blazing adoration of his little girl (played to perfection with the best ever Scottish turn of phrase by the exquisite and comical Millie Innes – watch this space, for she is going to grow up to be something else): “That was two years before Marlee was born and Jackson didn’t know then what he knew now – what it was like to love a child, how you would give your own life in a heartbeat to save theirs, how they were more precious than the most precious thing”.
As with all Atkinson’s scribing, there are layers within intricate layers, portraying convoluted yet brilliantly interlinking stories. We are dealing with mysteries and crime scenes and unresolved disappearances, yet to call these detective novels would be to underscore the importance of the comedy of manners that play out. The characters are painted with very few physical traits, and yet such is her mastery that you can form a perfectly clear image of them all in your mind’s eye – although this clearly causes the author a spot of bother when the parts are cast for television (see this brilliant conversation between writer and actor on YouTube chatting together off set about her macabre sense of humour and filming in Edinburgh). In the interview, Kate A. confesses that there is not much joy to be had in talking about happy people, and that ‘you write about damage basically’.
We certainly get plenty of that in her writing, yet there are also carloads of comedy: all that wittiness re a visit to the dentist (“ ‘Dad fancies the dentist’ the girl said, popping another sweet into an already overloaded mouth… Jackson tried not to think about this, nor about that scene in ‘Marathon Man’… ‘Soon be done now’, Sharon lied, tilting him backwards again”).
And effortless nods at things we recognise instantly:
“Right up until the end Victor’s mind had been as methodical as an efficient library, whereas Amelia felt that hers was more like the cupboard under the stair…where the one thing you knew was in there – a 5-amp fuse, a tin of tan shoe polish, a Philips screwdriver – would almost certainly be the one thing you couldn’t lay your hands on”.
Oh I could go on and on.
“That wasn’t what Amelia thought of as literature, literature was big books (Middlemarch and War and Peace) that you could fall in love with and lose yourself in for ever. And so she’d ended up at a far-flung, mediocre redbrick with no intellectual cachet but where at least they let you write long essays about your love affair with Middlemarch and War and Peace”.
“No one in Edith Wharton’s world really wanted to be there but Amelia would have got along fine inside an Edith Wharton novel”.
All I can say is that when you put one Kate Atkinson novel down there is an instant void, and you just have to hope the next one will not be too long in penning. “A God in Ruins”, the follow up to “Life After Life”, is next on my list – can Teddy’s story live up to Ursula’s?
Rating : four x 10/10 – FAVOURITE READS