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Old 9th Oct 2007, 10:39   #1
beer good
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Default Kate Atkinson: One Good Turn

Modern society is built on the idea that everyone minds their own business and don’t interfere. If you see something horrible happen you might pick up your phone and snap a digital image of it, but actually do something? Why? It’s Somebody Else’s Problem.

So when a traffic accident on a crowded street in Edinburgh appears to be leading up to outright murder, all the witnesses just stand around watching as if it’s on TV. All except a shy mystery writer who has spent his entire life on the sidelines and has no idea why he’s interfering, but manages to save a man’s life. And all he gets for it is to be drawn, along with a bunch of other “spectators”, into a story that turns their lives upside down.

One Good Turn is a standalone sequel to the brilliant Case Histories, and just like its predecessor it’s hard to place in a genre; it looks a bit like your typical crime novel with a humorous touch, complete with mysterious deaths, human trafficking and an anti-hero who likes sad country music and can’t get his relationships with women to work. But just like the Russian dolls that pop out throughout, there are layers here, boxes within boxes, and a good dose of serious thinking under the comedy.

Not completely unlike Baxter in McEwan’s Saturday, the bad guy here isn’t really a mystery; we know who he is, and his job isn’t as much to be caught as to act as a catalyst for the other characters. The core of the novel isn’t the solution to a crime but the characters themselves, caught in the middle of life with all the little nicks and bruises that the years bring, and really much to caught up in their own lives to have time to deal with other peoples’... but they have to. In Not The End Of The World, Atkinson tried to fuse her contemporary storytelling with various myths, from the old Greeks to Buffy, and the result was... mixed, to say the least. She’s toned that down considerably here, and when for instance Robin Hood pops up in the corner of the character’s eyes here and there it only serves to underline the central themes of the novel, all those things that we all profess to agree with but rarely find a reason to actually adress in our everyday life. Is there such a thing as an unselfish deed? Are we really supposed to look after each other? What do you mean, my actions may have consequences for other people?

Towards the end, Atkinson may try a little too hard to tie everything together; not enough to break the illusion, just bend it a little. But while it’s not quite up there with Case Histories, One Good Turn delivers enough insightful, funny and realistic storytelling to outweigh its flaws, and just enough darkness to keep it from getting too sugary. It might be autumn in Atkinson’s Edinburgh, but even if it doesn’t end well for everyone who deserves it (or, indeed, ends at all – life goes on), I get a little bit of a warm fuzzy feeling from the book. I like Kate Atkinson.

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Old 9th Oct 2007, 13:34   #2
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson - One Good Turn

I have almost finished this, but have been so disappointed by it. I blogged my feelings yesterday, less a review, more a pondering why?

There are certain authors whose books I will buy as they come out (I usually wait for paperback). I do so in the knowledge that I have loved what has gone before and the likelihood is that I will feel the same about their new work. It's akin to buying music. I adore the Barenaked Ladies, I think that Steven Page and Ed Robertson have gorgeous voices and they write clever, witty songs. They may bring out an album that doesn't resonate with me as much as a prior one, but it will still be good. I can depend on them. Same is true of my favourite authors. But lately I have been consistently disappointed. I buy a book wanting to love it. I am full of anticipation for this new book by a favourite author. And I am bored, disengaged, and grumpy.

Right now I am reading Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn. It was my treat: a relaxing page turner, a delicious book. I had been looking forward to it since it emerged in hardback last year, having wolfed down Case Histories. I thought highly of Atkinson in the past ("Behind the scenes at the museum" was a fabulous début, unusual, warm, absorbing) but Case Histories interested me because it managed to be both literary and an easy read. A detective mystery with complex twists and well drawn characters. This is a follow on, which revisits Jackson Brodie, the now retired detective. And, to be honest, it sucks! It's ploddy. It is cartoonish in its characterisation of a failed comedian, a rep. actress, a mild mannered crime writer, a corrupt business man, foreign escorts, a hired thug and so on. What has happened?
It keeps making me yawn. Really.

And there are some Ben Eltonesque riffs throughout, the same kind of witty musings that appear dotted throughout Catherine Flynn's "What was lost". Is there a trend for this or am I only just noticing because I am a grumpy reader right now, all humphs and tsks?

I keep reading the prose and noticing that yes, Atkinson writes well, but there is something missing. Where is the sparkle? Then I wonder if I am merely assuming that because she has written well she still is. Perhaps she has raced through this without customary care. Or is it the wildly implausible plot? I don't think it can be. I wonder if it is just the wrong time for this book and me.


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Old 10th Oct 2007, 14:40   #3
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson - One Good Turn

I knew I shouldn't have read this thread before I'd read One Good Turn. I really enjoyed Case Histories, and agree with Sara that Behind the Scenes at the Museum was a phenomenal first novel. Now I'm worried that it's going to be the wrong time for me and this book and, same as beergood, I like Kate Atkinson and want to continue liking her.
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Old 10th Oct 2007, 15:25   #4
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson - One Good Turn

Sorry Mike! I like Kate Atkinson too, which I why I wondered if I was being particularly harsh.
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Old 10th Oct 2007, 15:41   #5
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson - One Good Turn

I can only say that I disagree with Sara's dismissal of it - if not entirely. I didn't find it ploddy at all (in fact, I finished it in just 4 or 5 days). While some of the side characters are a bit clichéd, it's no worse than they have been in the past. IMO she's always used archetypical characters, but her strength is in making them more than that. As I mentioned above, Jackson Brodie himself would seem like a cliché if reduced to his most basic traits, but that's before we get to know him; the same would apply to some other characters here. Though the comedian, obviously, IS a parody though not for long whom we mostly see through the eyes of people who don't like him.

It's possible, of course, that I was a bit too generous - maybe it was just that I thought it was considerably better than the mediocre Not the End of the World. But I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say that it "sucks".
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Old 13th Jan 2008, 18:54   #6
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson - One Good Turn

Hmm, I think I'm going to come down on the Sara's side, sorry Beergood. I kept trying to like it, but Atkinson just wasn't really trying hard enough with this one. Her characters really didn't interest me, and although they weren't completely one-dimensional, I think two would be pushing it. As Sara rightly says, they are mostly cartoonish and flat, and I really didn't care what happened to any of them.

The plot, however, really annoyed me, and the twists and turns designed to bring everything together just made the whole thing unbelievable. I know the book is about coincidence, and the interconnectedness of people, but I remember a Spanish book from the 50s called La Noria (translated as The Waterwheel, I think), which depicted small snippets from the lives of about 20 different people. Each snippet led on to a new snippet from a new character in a linear form (as one passed another in the street, who would then phone another, and so on), but at least it didn't try to connect the whole lot together, as Atkinson has done.
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Old 5th Jun 2009, 17:36   #7
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson: One Good Turn


Well, I've jumped in at the deep end with When Will There be Good News, and I have to say that I was impressed. I can't wait to read her other books.

I don't find the genre hard to place. It's thriller, with a touch of mystery. I liked the characters, the plot, the complexity and interconnectedness (is that a word? It is now).

How feasible is the plot? Not very. How realistic are the characters? Barely. How satisfying is the denoument? Rather. How entertaining was it? Very.

I don't think it has delusions of being great literature, but I was never bored, rejected other books I was reading in parallel to finish it, and will dip into Kate's bibliography again, real soon now.
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Old 6th Jun 2009, 13:35   #8
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson: One Good Turn

I've read all of Kate Atkinson's novels and also met her recently at a book signing where she was very friendly and willing to talk about her books. All I can say is that each of her books has been entertaining and thoroughly readable which for me at least is recommendation enough. 'When will there be good news' was one of those books where although you know she is going to tie up all the storylines there was an unexpected twist at the end of this one. OK she's not high brow literature but she's not pap either.
Good value - certainly. Will I buy her next - without a doubt- and she did hint to me that Jackson Brodie may still have more life in him even though it was a close call in this novel.
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Old 13th Jul 2009, 18:37   #9
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson: Behind the scenes at the museum



Behind the scenes at the Museum

I absolutely hate Family Sagas. That's what this book is.

I detest Flashbacks. The book is full of them - she calls them Footnotes.

I have had a belly full of nostalgia about rationing, seaside holidays oop North, disfunctional families, accidental pregnancies, disastrous weddings, all that Coronation Street guff. This book is bulging with it.

So why did I enjoy it so much that I read the whole thing practically at one sitting? It must be something about how cleverly she writes. She did quite a few dangling little threads which she tied up neatly at the end. There was an interesting surprise or two. The whole book galloped along at a cracking pace. I recommend it.

Having said that, I'm pleased she appears to have left the family saga behind, and is concentrating on crime novels.


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Old 17th Jul 2009, 19:55   #10
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Default Re: Kate Atkinson: One Good Turn

Having just reread my grumpy appraisal of "One Good Turn" I am delighted to say that I adored "When Will There be Good News?" I have no review of it, and can't recall specifics but I thought the character of Reggie was lovely and I was rooting for the Dr all the way through. It was engaging, entertaining and well written. Recommended!
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