Friday, February 22, 2008

'One Good Turn' by Kate Atkinson

22 February 2008

Reading the blurb at the front of Kate Atkinson's latest novel, 'One Good Turn', I realised that I have read all her published books. While this obviously suggests that I like her writing, I think what has kept me reading is her exploration of a variety of styles - from the wonderful family saga of 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' to the comedy thriller ('Emotionally Weird'), dalliances with magic realism (in 'Human Croquet' and the short story collection 'Not the End of the World') and an innovative take on the detective novel ('Case Histories'). Jackson Brodie, the hero of 'Case Histories', gets a second outing in 'One Good Turn' which is subtitled 'A Jolly Murder Mystery' but I found it quite a different book with a complex but subtle structure. The story is told in the third person but the point of view rotates, chapter by chapter, through at least half a dozen main characters. In many cases the switch of viewpoint at the start of the chapter allows the author to skip back a few minutes and replay the latest action from a different perspective. This creates a gradual unveiling of what has happened. As with many of Atkinson's books, clever twists are sufficiently signposted for the reader to guess them just before the characters do - making for an extremely satisfying and enjoyable read. Intriguing, gripping, not too demanding but cleverer than it first appears. There is a running theme about Russian dolls and you gradually realise that the stories of each of the main characters do not just overlap but actually seem to fit inside each other. While the resolution of numerous loose ends is deftly achieved, the plot does seem to rest on a few enormously unlikely coincidences but, as long you don't take it too seriously, it's lots of fun. And, having seen Kate Atkinson at the Edinburgh Book Festival some years ago, it was particularly interesting to find her writing a scene about an author appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival ...



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