Thursday, 2 February 2012

"One Good Turn," 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.

Having read "Case Histories," I was in the mood to carry on to the next Jackson Brodie novel.

"One Good Turn" takes place about 2 years after the events of "Case Histories."  Jackson Brodie is at the Edinburgh Festival to support his actress girlfriend, Julia, who is opening in a new (dreadful) play that he has been talked into financing.  In his eventful stay, Jackson witnesses a road rage incident and also finds - and loses again - the drowned body of a young woman.  Jackson gets further drawn into events, and he finds it hard to adjust to his unaccustomed role as witness and suspect.

I have a strange relationship to Kate Atkinson's Brodie novels so far, and I have been trying to work out why.  I have a theory, but it is more a comment on my reading tastes than it is any criticism of Atkinson's style.  It comes down to my feeling that her style of storytelling is quite episodic; she jumps between different stories and character threads.  Now, I know that she is not unique in this and neither is it new - I remember being aware of Dickens changing focus between different sets of characters in "Bleak House" when I read it - but I find that the lack of central focus precludes my complete involvement.  When I start to become interested and involved in the story of a particular character, and then find that the next chapter has reverted to another strand, the book becomes easier for me to put down.  I normally find that I enjoy that chapter when I do read it but, because it doesn't focus on the character who has held me at that moment, I don't feel the immediate pull to read on.  Hence my feeling that I enjoy the books as a whole, while still paradoxically finding her books easy to put down.

I also felt that this episodic structure doesn't allow for a focal figure: even Jackson Brodie doesn't seem to play an appreciably larger part in this novel than any other character (if anything, ill-fated author Martin Canning seems to get rather more page-time).  Atkinson makes up for the shortage of Brodie with the introduction of a new character, Louise - policewoman, single mother of a teenage son, owner of a collapsing house and elderly, ailing cat -  whom I found very appealing.  Louise is called out to investigate Jackson's discovery of the drowned woman, and she develops a little, wholly understandable (let's face it, he's Jason Isaacs) crush on Jackson.  Atkinson is particularly good at creating interesting, strong yet vulnerable, female characters and, of the many examples of this in "One Good Turn," Louise is my favourite.  This might be something to do with cat-owners solidarity, and I am slightly ashamed to admit that I found it harder to read the poignant sections about Louise's elderly cat than I did any description of human-on-human violence.  I'm a bit worried what that says about my personality.

I think that I enjoyed this book more than "Case Histories" because, although I have made much about her episodic structure, I felt that the strands of this book came together more cohesively and effectively (but then, "Case Histories" was far more 3 different investigations that intersect rather than one narrative coming together).  I do have a copy of the next Jackson Brodie waiting to be read, but right now I feel like moving on to something else and returning to him a few books down the line....

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