Saturday, 7 January 2012

"Case Histories," by Kate Atkinson

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

It's taken me a while to get around to it but, after reading "Emotionally Weird," I decided that I wanted to read more by Kate Atkinson.  As I enjoy mysteries, the Jackson Brodie series seemed like the obvious choice.  And, because I am a little bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to reading (and my husband would probably say in other things also), it, of course, had to be the first in the series.

"Case Histories" finds ex-policeman Jackson Brodie working as a private detective.  Kate Atkinson's narrative has Jackson involved in three different cases, all of which have a common strand running through them in the relationships between parent and child: he is hired by two sisters who want to discover what happened to another sister who disappeared when they were children; a solicitor who wants to find the killer of his daughter, and a woman who wants to find the niece who was lost to her following a tragedy involving the child's parents.  In parallel with this, Jackson is struggling with the imperfections of his own life, including trying to maintain contact with his beloved daughter now that his ex-wife has found a new relationship and turned into a Stepford Wife.  Oh, and someone seems to be trying to hurt him.

I came to this book having seen the BBC adaptation starring Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie.  This meant that I was reading with the image of Jason Isaacs in my head.  Now, don't get me wrong, I like Jason Isaacs a lot, so in many ways it is a pleasant experience to have him inhabiting my head for a while.  But I do feel a little bit sad that I didn't discover the books first and have the chance to find my own Jackson Brodie.  I generally find it is a far more fulfilling experience to read a book and be able to form my own ideas of the character, than to have had it handed to me in a film or TV image - and it is more usual for me to have read the book first and be shouting at the screen* if I disagree with the casting ("Shutter Island" being another exception where I came to the book after the film).

Having used the word "sad" in the previous paragraph, I do have to say that this seemed to me to be a rather melancholy read.  There are very few happy characters, although that could be said of many mysteries as the genre feeds on the various dissents, tensions and simmering emotions that can lead to violence.  This feeling of melancholia might have arisen because the character who I felt was most strongly and memorably written, Amelia, is someone who is deeply discontented with where she is in her life.  Once again, though, I wish I had read the book first because I was reading Amelia and seeing Fenella Woolgar who played the part so well in the television adaptation. 

I am developing quite a strange relationship to Kate Atkinson's writing.  This is going to sound contradictory, but I find her books very putdownable - and yet I enjoy them.  It takes me a while to read one of her books, because I do so very sporadically.  I don't find them compulsive mysteries where you can't stop reading because you need to find out what happens next; they are more of a slow burn thing.  As it it usually a compliment to call a book unputdownable, the converse must sound like a criticism - but I think I just mean that I need to be in the right mood for her writing.  While I'm still in the mood, I think I'm going to move right on to the next in the series...

As Jason Isaacs also played the wizard Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter film franchise, I was amused by the following in the novel about his reaction to his daughter's Harry Potter fixation: "Jackson tended to close his ears to her incessant Harry Potter chatter (he had had a wizard-free childhood himself and failed to see the attraction.)"

*Obviously I wouldn't shout at the screen if I was in a cinema because that would break one of the entries in Mayo and Kermode's Moviegoers Code of Conduct.
Oh, and hello to Jason Isaacs.

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