6 September 2008

Review: WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS?, Kate Atkinson

Random House Australia, 2008, 348 pages
ISBN 978-0-385-61451-1

Thirty years ago Andrew Decker killed Joanna Mason's mother, sister, dog and baby brother. Six year old Joanna escaped by running into the fields. And now Andrew Decker is to be released from gaol.

Reggie Chase is an orphan too. Her mother died recently while on holidays, an accidental drowning, not a murder. Reggie's life owes its stability to her own resilience, her part-time job as a nanny for Dr. Hunter's baby son, and to her friendship with her ex-teacher Ms. McDonald. The night of the big train derailment on the line behind Ms. McDonald's house is the night Dr. Hunter disappears. It's also the night Reggie Chase brings Jackson Brodie back from the dead.

Reggie is convinced that, whatever Dr. Hunter's husband says, she and the baby have been kidnapped. Life has made Reggie old beyond her years. She is remarkably resourceful and persistent.

WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? isn't just a good read. It's a mystery, and an exploration of relationships. #3 in the series, it adds to the unfolding story of Jackson Brodie, and newly married Detective Chief Inspector Louise Munro. Despite serious story threads it is laced with humour in unexpected places, and with poignant sadness too.

Some of the scenarios are perhaps a little too coincidental, maybe testing the reader's sense of credibility. But who cares? This is fiction and an author whose writing holds our interest can do whatever she likes, can't she?

Kate Atkinson's love of the English language surfaces in the way she merges nursery rhymes into the text: "Reggie Chase, as small as a mouse, as quiet as a house with no one home." The description of the sound of the derailing of the train is vivid: ".. as if a giant hand was clawing a giant blackboard with giant fingernails and finally a tremendous bang like an explosive clap of thunder. The apocalypse had come to town." Kate Atkinson wants us to savour the words, roll them around like wine on the palate.

This is a book worth dwelling on. I hesitate to use the term literary thriller even though the blurb on the back cover does. Kate Atkinson, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year with her very first novel, is something of a "genre-jumper". But take your time with this book. There's more than one story to enjoy here. I look forward to Jackson Brodie #4, although, according to the author, it may be a long time in coming.

Kate Atkinson's site contains the first chapter of WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? as well as a video interview, where she talks about where her ideas come from and how her characters are created. There is also a video extract of Kate Atkinson reading from the book.

Her other books:
Other Jackson Brodie titles:


maxine said...

Great review. I have this one waiting to read, but also the previous one, as I've only managed to read Case Histories so far. I did like it, though. Very bleak.

Kerrie said...

I think I would read #2 first if you can Maxine. (ONE GOOD TURN) - there is some sequential stuff with Jackson Brodie and his relationship with Louise Munro that will make more sense that way

Glenn Harper said...

Kerrie: It's interesting reading your review after reading your "reviewing principles"--you're much more organized than I am, and I can see things in your review I wished I'd said in mine. But Atkinson's book is so subtle that it's hard to say everything in one review (or even discover everything in one reading). How far she can go with Brodie is an interesting question, but she keeps finding something new for him.
Thanks for your comment to my review.


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