2 x Kate Atkinson


Started Early took my dog  by Kate Atkinson

published 2010

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

published 2019



I love Kate Atkinson and I love Jackson Brodie.

When I am thinking of fictional male investigators, there are only two worth considering as real people: Harry Nelson from Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books, and Jackson. They are the thinking women’s sleuths, and I love them both.

It is a continuing mystery as to why the Ruth books have not been televised (but who, who would play Harry? Would the wrong actor be worse than nothing?) – but there is joy in the fact that we had Jason Isaacs embodying Jackson on TV: could we have more please?

Also more books – look at that nine-year gap. Of course Atkinson was producing her other, wonderful novels (see particularly Life after Life and Transcription). But oh the joy of sinking into another mysterious slice of Northern life. In both these books the author wanders round among a huge circle of characters, telling you what they are thinking, taking her time. There are loopy timeschemes and great long periods in which nothing much seems to be happening, and you are worried that you have forgotten which character is which. But she always, always makes it work.

I always feel she would be thrown out of creative writing classes, because she breaks all the rules, but then she can, because she is just the most marvellous writer.

The characters are so real and so convincing. There are some very very dark deeds and moments in both books, and times (test of a real immersive novel) where you want to yell at  someone ‘don’t do it!’ as if you can change the course of the plot. There are wicked, wicked people. 

And yet amid the grim reality – and there’s nothing here that you don’t think is, has been and will be happening in real life – there are her redemptive moments, the moments where two people bond, or just look out for each other, the belief that there are terrible times around, but there will also always be goodness. (There is a description, 2 paragraphs, in Big Sky of a Mother’s Day....)




Corruption, sex trafficking, drugs, prostitution, lost children – and at the same time virtue, and some morality, and also endless jokes – Atkinson does social observation at every level so well, and is one of the funniest writers we have.

Justine Jordan wrote this about ‘Started Early...’ in the Guardian:

So much of the narrative is retrospective or interior that there's not much urgency to unfolding events, however highly coloured. And there's a rhetorical whimsy reminiscent of some of Atkinson's earlier books, a devil-may-care gesturing at the novel's own fictionality, which can leave the characters threatening to float free of our trust in them. But we follow their digressive, meandering voices avidly as they circle around their own particular loves and losses, all knitted together with Atkinson's extraordinary combination of wit, plain-speaking, tenderness and control 

– which summed up very well how I think of the Jackson Brodie books.

The perfect, authentic details of people’s lives are amazing – ‘she should haul her old Rosemary Conley tapes out of the boxes in the spare room’ and ‘her mother had dressed her in limp pinafore dresses and nylon jumpers with brown lace-up Clarks shoes,  a look which even a cute kid, let alone Tracy, would have trouble pulling off.’

A play area attacked to a pub, the ultimate dream of the Useless Parenting classes
 The thin card of the manila folder was soft and felted with age. This was what folders used to be like before they became pink neon plastic 
 Ida’s been hacking with Buttons all afternoon – Reggie couldn’t even begin to translate that sentence. She presumed that Buttons had nothing to do with Cinderella, and, equally, that hacking had nothing to do with computers.

‘She's in my book club.’ 
‘Your book club?’ Andy didn’t know which was more startling - that […] had been murdered or that Rhoda was in a book club.
‘First rule of book club,’ Rhoda said, ‘there is no book club.’


I picked these quotes almost at random – there is a gem on every page.

She tells you what people are wearing, and also what they are listening to. She is a great, great writer.


Top picture is Jason Isaacs playing Jackson Brodie.

Some of the book takes place in Bridlington. Idly looking for pictures of the resort, I came across a handful of pics of seaside holidays in the 1930s – in, of all places, the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive (actually a great favourite blog resource). They were from an album donated by an RAF veteran, Edwin Newman. There is no direct connection with the book, but the lost innocence, the air of nostalgia, the happy families who don’t know what the future will hold, the Bridlington setting, the sheer loveliness of the picture – well, I had to use it, I think you will agree.



Comments

  1. I recently reread them all. Maybe I'll start again...

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    1. Exactly what I'm thinking Lynn, especially as there are so many connections, and characters who wander in and out of the books.

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  2. I really like the Jackson Brodie stories, Moira, and I'm so glad you do, too. Kate Atkinson tells such good stories, and she creates great characters. What I like about her work, too, is that she experiments with storytelling, so there's always something a little different with each story.

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    1. Yes indeed. And you and I, Margot, would never be surprised that crime books have very real literary worth. I think she's an outstanding illustration of that.

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  3. Have you seen any of the videos of Atkinson and Isaacs chatting? They are both so charming and it's so interesting to see them discuss Jackson Brodie.

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    1. No I haven't, how could I miss that, I must go and find them...

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  4. Oh, Moira, that photograph! That could so easily have been my grandmother and mother. Right date and place. In fact I looked carefully to make sure that I couldn't see them. Love the way the two women are wearing their heavy coats . . . and the little girl with the sunhat and the hand-knitted cardigan - I am sure it is hand-knitted . . .

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    1. So glad you liked it, I loved it and am now looking for other books so I can use the rest of the series of books - they would've been good for A Fortnight in September too. And of course her cardi is home-knitted! Any 'real' pictures of English seasides in the past always have people dressed quite formally and also very very warmly - so it is realistic. The older girl looks as though she might be wearing her school hat and blazer - not at all inconceivable.
      My mum has a picture of me, maybe 6 or 7, at the seaside at the height of summer - I am making a sandcastle and I am dressed as though modelling for 'our new autumn styles' - wool tartan trousers, and a big hand-knitted red jumper, perfectly dressed, by magazine standards, for sipping hot chocolate or kicking through fallen leaves.

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  5. I love all the Jackson Brodie books and you've made me want to read them again. Why not? Plenty of time :-)

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    1. Exactly how I felt! With all those connections and recurring characters between the books it would be well worthwhile checking them out again.

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  6. Like the Jackson Brodie books and Jason Isaacs even more. (sigh) Will look for a video of author and actor conversing.

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    1. Yes, me too, am excited about that. Love the books, love him, love the TV series. Perfect lockdown reading and viewing.

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  7. Jason Issacs would also make a great Harry Nelson! I'd been thinking of Richard Armitage for Nelson but maybe he's too good looking? And I can't imagine who could play Ruth. BTW, Jason Issacs read the audio version of Big Sky and it was fantastic.

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    1. Hmmm - I'd have to get Jackson Brodie out of my head, and maybe Jason I is too good-looking too? But I would absolutely take him as Harry! Had to look up Richard Armitage, and he would be fine too.
      Now, Ruth - should definitely be Ruth Jones, she even has the right first name! I think she woudl be perfect as Ruth G.

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  8. Sorry, Moira, neither of them would do! Harry has to be rather stocky and northern. Richard Armitage is far too middle-class and conventionally good-looking.

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    1. We each need our own Harry! So have you got a good suggestion? Someone suggested that Mark Rylance should play Cathbad, and ever since then they have entwined in to each other, I see MR when Cathbad features...

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  10. I did not realize I had not commented on this, which is a crime because I love this author and this series. That happens a lot, forgetting to actually comment, I hope it is the current situation and not old age but maybe a combo of the two.

    Anyway, I have a copy of the newest book, and will read it soonish. I do kind of wish I had the time to reread the other books in the series first but I have too many other books I want to read now so...

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    1. I get lost sometimes in comments and thoughts! and as you know, I end up commenting on several posts at once, I do catchups rather than visiting every day. I know, exactly, I kept wishing I could read them all in order. One day I will have the chance to do that...

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  11. I like all of the Jackson Brodie books and enjoy Jason Isaacs playing him. I hadn't realized all of the wit in Big Sky, but see it clearly here.

    But I must disagree with a major point here: that Harry Nelson and Jackson Brodie are the two thinking women's sleuths. Guido Brunetti, a commissario of the Venice questura, outdoes both of them, in my opinion. He spends most of his time thinking, then interviews suspects and victims' relatives, then he retreats to his office and thinks, then goes home and lies down and thinks. He even looks for lessons for his cases in ancient Greek and Roman history, especially military history. I love his character and Donna Leon's books, have read all but the most recent one. If our library ever opens, I'll nab it. And if I were to ever end up on that proverbial island with good bread, cheese and chocolate, I'd bring all of Donna Leon's and Sara Paretsky's (V.I. Warshawski) canon with me. Third would be Elly Griffiths' series. Then would come Kate Atkinson's and some legal thrillers thrown in.

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    1. Just as well we all have different views Kathy - suppose we were all shipwrecked together including the sleuths - this way we can each have our own!
      I just looked to see which authors were most represented on my blog, and Elly Griffiths had the most entries of living authors, which sounded about right to me.
      If I had her books and the Jackson Brodie books to re-read I would be fine.

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  12. I do like Ruth Galloway and have read all the books except The Lantern Men, which I bought myself for my birthday and is sitting waiting for me to finish Susie Steiner's superb Remain Silent. And I wish I lived in Norfolk in the marshes near the water. Anyone who doesn't know Steiner's detective, Manon Bradshaw, is missing a great reading experience.

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    1. Hello Kathy, I know that you are such a loyal fan of the writers you love! Elly Griffiths' Ruth books really are my favourite current series. And I have discovered Susie Steiner relatively recently - I think you are one of the people who told me to read her - and am enjoying very much.

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  13. And for Susie Steiner's book, if you don't read it, you're also missing a biting wit, causing me to laugh out loud.

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    1. I have it lined up on my Kindle, and very much looking forward to it! In the previous books what I loved was Manon's ways and voice.

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