Sunday, August 24, 2014

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Cover image from

This is one of Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels. The protagonist, ex-army, ex-police, ex-sleuth, and bundle of contradictions is now divorced and retired. Predictably, he stumbles on trouble at the Edinburgh Festival, where his girl friend, Julia, is acting in a play.

A frequently hilarious and madly exaggerated genre romp with a crime wave that puts Jackson's "having a bad day stakes," through the roof, this novel also contains realistic characters and scenes and philosophical riffs on the human condition.

Zany jokes and slapstick scenes alternate with moments of touching  poignancy. As in the works of Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, Edinburgh comes alive as a setting that is practically a character.

The reader of this novel cannot help but speculate about the feelings of this brilliant writer doing genre fiction. Like her novelist character Martin Canning, would she perhaps prefer to be working on something "more serious?"

And indeed she has. Her most recent opus, Life After Life, is a historical novel that spans and pans the 20th century. It won the Costa Award and the 2014 International Booksellers IBW Award. 

When her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Prize, fellow fiction writer Hilary Mantel was justifiably outraged in the London Review of Books when the Guardian used a headline that not only failed to mention Atkinson by name, but undermined the writer and the book.

Regardless of past reviews, I'll be reading that book, along with all Atkinson's other work. Besides being a great storyteller, she's a wicked social commentator and a comic genius.

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