Tuesday, January 29, 2013

All part of the huge, dirty, torn social fabric

A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen. So says Jackson Brodie, who used to be a private investigator, who used to be a policeman, who used to be in the military, whose role in Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News? is far from central, yet somehow he is its heart.

This story is about Joanna, who when she was six witnessed the murder of her mother and siblings, barely escaping herself. Thirty years on, the convicted murderer is being released from prison. It's also about Reggie, who works as "mother's help," looking after Joanna's baby. Reggie is 16 and recently orphaned; her brother is bad news. Then there's Louise, a cop in a marriage gone wrong, and former love interest (or something like it) of Jackson's, who's investigating Joanna's husband.

Louise was an urbanite, she preferred the gut-thrilling sound of an emergency siren slicing through the night to the noise of country birds at dawn. Pub brawls, rackety roadworks, mugged tourists, the badlands on a Saturday night — they all made sense, they were all part of the huge, dirty, torn social fabric. There was a war raging out there in the city and she was part of the fight, but the countryside unsettled her because she didn't know who the enemy was. She had always preferred North and South to Wuthering Heights. All that demented running around the moors, identifying yourself with the scenery, not a good role model for a woman.

Throw in a massive train wreck — Jackson's on board — and these characters and others turn out to be connected to one other in unlikely ways.

This is the second Jackson Brodie novel I've read, and I will read more. I marvel at the writing, that it should appear to be so light and funny, and turn so suddenly very dark. So rambling and seemingly random, but in fact tightly interwoven with every other character's thoughts and actions. It turn out it's quite difficult to quote from this novel, as all the punchy bits rely on how they relate to what happened three pages, or three chapters, earlier.

There is not a lot of good news in this novel. And there are a lot of coincidences, with explanations I was willing to accept.

This is not a conventional mystery novel. There are a few sets of mysterious circumstances, but it's some time before it's at all clear that there is a central mystery that needs solving. And that's fine by me, as I was busy being engrossed in the plenty of very interesting people who have a lot of shit to deal with in their lives. As one review notes, "The mysteries Atkinson is most invested in are those of the human heart."

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