Review: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn (2006), by Kate Atkinson is my second reading of the Jackson Brodie series, started with Case Histories in 2004. Summary from Book Depository:

5/5

It is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – an incident which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a suspect. With Case Histories, Kate Atkinson showed how brilliantly she could explore the crime genre and make it her own. In One Good Turn she takes her masterful plotting one step further. Like a set of Russian dolls each thread of the narrative reveals itself to be related to the last. Her Dickensian cast of characters are all looking for love or money and find it in surprising places. As ever with Atkinson what each one actually discovers is their true self. Unputdownable and triumphant, One Good Turn is a sharply intelligent read that is also percipient, funny, and totally satisfying.

The following review is spoiler-free:

This is my second reading by Kate Atkinson. Apparently, I am reading the series backwards, having read When Will There Be Good News? last summer, but this does not take the pleasure out of the reading. I was already familiar with Jackson Brodie and Louise appears in this novel for the first time, although I was already familiar with her. The rest of the characters come from the previous novel, Case Histories, which I haven’t read yet, but apparently Julia also appears on it, and she is the reason why Jackson is in Edinburgh. What I loved the most is that the characters are very, very complex. Like real human beings, they have many layers and it takes yet another chapter to get to really know what they really think or who they really are. But, at the same time, they change with every chapter and it gets even more interesting to know them and the reasons behind their behaviour. These are the main characters:

  • Jackson: An ex-detective dating Julia, an actress who is working at the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Louise: A Scottish detective with a fourteen-year old.
  • Gloria: A rich housewife.
  • Martin: A best-selling author of crime novels.

In a typical Atkinson move, the plot is easy to follow, yet complex enough the make the reading challenging and addictive. The story (or stories!) is told from the point of view of Jackson, Louise, Gloria, Martin and a unkown man. In a very modern-apporach, their lives seem to be connected in any unthinkable way. Also, Atkinson makes a great use of the Matryoshka structure, imitating the Russian dolls, there is a story within a story, blurring the limits between real life and fiction.

Like great crime novels, One Good Turn denounces different social realities and flaws. From Gloria’s status as a rich housewife to Louise’s struggle with her fourteen-year old with complete access to the Internet and a good private education, there are a lot of questions to be answered. Atkinson makes them to the reader, in an attempt to make us reflect and reach a conclusion for ourselves. Morality is then, key to read One Good Turn and review it.

For me it was that relative morality what made me enjoy the novel the most. Atkinson does not want to lecture the reader, there is not a didactic purpose: the characters are flawed (just like real-life people) and they know it and try to make the most of life. Then, they behave according to their personal situation and their problems and whether that behaviour is justified, moral or ethic is for each of us to judge yet, highly justified by the events in the story. There is no good/bad division in this book. Everything is grey.

So, One Good Turn is a great read, a great novel in every sense of the word. I am becoming a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and plan on reading the whole Jackson Brodie series. I recommend this novel to anyone who likes crime fiction. It is so rich and it has so many layers of interpretation that every reader will get a different interpretation and a different story.

Also, Atkinson put the English detective novel back on the spotlight when book shops are flooded with detective fiction and is difficult to distinguish good, high-quality reading from more commercial and forgettable literature. She is definitely a must-read for fans of the genre and her novels will make the reader reflect on long-held assumptions and beliefs. A five-star reading!

Irish Detective Fiction – Alrene Hunt

I am a big fan of crime/detective novels. Sometimes, after a hard day at school, all I want is to relax… with a crime. Depending on my tiredness, I either pick up a TV show or a book. But, when picking up a book. How to distinguish good, complex fiction from trashy best-sellers? I rely a lot on other bloggers (big thank you) and on the Internet in general. But, until now there was a gap in my shelves: Irish crime novels written by a woman. Let’s say, I was searching for the Irish Kate Atkinson or P.D James.

I came across this article last week and I was half in awe, half astonished. There are three women in a list of ten writers. Maybe there are not as many published detective fiction writers out there (as Amanda pointed out); anyways, I was in awe with one of them: Arlene Hunt. I googled all her novels and they all appeal to me although I must admit that the crimes depicted seem… too violent.

You can visit Arlene’s website and browse through all her books. It is very easy to navigate through the Books section and they are spoiler-free. She has published seven novels, six of which belong to the John and Sarah series, because any worthy detective-writer out there, she has a trademark investigator.

I haven’t read any of Arlene’s books but I can’t wait. I love Ireland, Dublin is my favourite place in the whole world and I plan on living there one day and enjoying the fantstic Irish culture and, despite what many say, weather. Her crimes depict modern problems in our society, not only in Ireland, and, the fact that she created a man and a woman for her series, reminds me of my beloved Bones. I am sure there is much of the Irish culture (and Irish English) inscribed in her works.

Although many consider Ireland still part of the UK in terms of literature, I think this fiction deserves much more attention than what it gets. I also plan on reading Scottish detective fiction, but I’ll leave that for another post.

If you know any Welsh/Irish or Scottish woman writing detective fiction, please, let me know!

My first blogging event!

I must admit I am not a fan of reading challenges or read-alongs. I like to read whenever I want and whatever I want. But, I found this event and it just felt perfect! There is no reading-list and no impositions, just two months devoted to reading one of my favourite periods and works: Victorian literature.

The event, A Victorian Celebration, is hosted by A Literary Odyssey and, if you inscribe before 1st May you can win one of the Penguin Clothbound Editions from the following selection:

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Tess of D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

This is just perfect timing! By June I hope to have sit all my exams and I’ll be able to celebrate with some reading of my choice, without deadlines and without spending 10 hours at school. How great is that?

I hope some of you join, too!

Independet Blogger Contest at Goodreads!

Thanks to Kimberly I’ve entered by first contest as a blogger! This is the first time I actually hear of one of these events and I’m really happy that I get to participate. You can obviously vote for my blog! But, what I hope is that while voting more and more people visit and get to share the literary love at Books and Reviews:

Independent Book Blogger Awards

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

Vote

Voting opens Tuesday, April 10, 2012!

Bleak House – Part II

I keep on reading and enjoying Bleak House! So here goes the review of Part II, containing the following chapters:

5. A Morning Adventure
6. Quite at Home
7. The Ghost’s Walk

I read these chapters a few days ago, so revisiting them with the knowledge of what will be happening a hundred pages after them (I’m already starting Part V tonight) helps giving some clues on what is really going on. This is a feeling I get in every chapter of the book: there is something going on and Dickens does not want the reader to fully know. We are asked to make a close reading, to guess and to stay alert on names and relationships. Obviously, this was not what I excepted at all and I’m in awe at being challenged to keep pace with two different stories apparently intervowed, and so many complex characters.

5. A Morning Adventure.

Miss Jellyby, Esther, Ada and Richard go for a walk and encounter the Little Woman (or, as I like to call her, “crazy old lady”) who lives in a building with an even more disturbed landlord named Krook and his cat, Lady Jane (for the cat is grey and I love the reference). There, they visit the lady’s lodgings where she keeps many birds and they talk about the other lodger in the building who makes a living out of copying legal documents.

At first I found this chapter a little bit boring and wanted the three main youths to move away from Miss Jellyby’s and go to Bleak House. But, as it usually happens in literature, I found myself astonished at the turn of events. The building was a creepy place, and a feeling of disgust grew inside me as I was reading. But when Ada, Esther and Richard reached the lady’s apartment, I felt sorry. Sorry for her poverty and for the birds she keeps until her cause is resolved. Sorry for her blind optimism and her lost battle. By now, I started paying attention to the birds (as the cover of my edition is full of bird cages) and how symbolic they are throughout the novel.

The Little Old Lady to Ada, Richard and Esther: “I am sorry I cannot offer chocolate. I expect a judgment shortly and shall then place my establishment on a superior footing. At present, I don’t mind confessing to the wards in Jarndyce (in strict confidence) that I sometimes find it difficult to keep up a genteel appearance. I have felt the cold here. I have felt something sharper than cold. It matters very little. Pray excuse the introduction of such mean topics.”

The Little Old Lady on the birds: “I began to keep the little creatures,” she said, “with an object that the wards will readily comprehend. With the intention of restoring them to liberty. When my judgment should be given. Ye-es! They die in prison, though. Their lives, poor silly things, are so short in comparison with Chancery proceedings that, one by one, the whole collection has died over and over again. I doubt, do you know, whether one of these, though they are all young, will live to be free! Ve-ry mortifying, is it not?”

6. Quiet at Home

Ada, Esther and Richard arrive to Bleak House and finally meet John Jarndyce who welcomes them as if they were his own children. They get in contact with their new home and meet Mr. Skimpole.

I was so anxious to get to this part. I thought that arriving to Bleak House would be a key moment in terms of mystery and drama, but it was not. Bleak House is a good house and Mr. Jarndyce was no mystery either. He is a friendly, a little bit affected but perfectly correct old man. Also, (silly me!) by this chapter I realized Esther was to be the housekeeper and not another protegé as Ada and Richard. But, what I loved the most is the cover criticism of the stereotypical Romantic artist thanks to the figure of Mr. Skimpole. I think Dickens did this on purpose, taking into account the recent wave of Romantic poets leading an idle, but apparently substantial life, in Europe. Mr. Skimple is a parody of that Romantic artist, calling himself a child at heart who cannot commit to any job and who refuses to take any responsibilities on anything he does, abusing his friends’ kindness and getting away with everything.

Esther on Bleak House: It was one of those delightfully irregular houses where you go up and down steps out of one room into another, and where you come upon more rooms when you think you have seen all there are, and where there is a bountiful provision of little halls and passages, and where you find still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them.

On Mr. Skimpole: His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He was a mere child in the world, but he didn’t cry for the moon. He said to the world, “Go your several ways in peace! Wear red coats, blue coats, lawn sleeves; put pens behind your ears, wear aprons; go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, any object you prefer; only—let Harold Skimpole live!”

Mr. Skimpole asks Richard and Esther to pay off his debt (twenty-four pound, sixteen, and sevenpence half a penny) just hours after they meet.

7. The Ghost’s Walk

The narrative, which has been focusing on Bleak House through the eyes of Esther, shifts, literally from her to Chesney Wold, already mentioned in Chapter 2: in Fashion. The “old couple” that I mentioned in my previous post, are the Leicesters who, at present, are away, visiting Paris. But the narrative remains in Chesney Wold, where their housekeeper, Mrs. Rouncewell and her grandson, who is visiting her and pays a special attention to Rosa, a local maid Mrs. Rouncewell is training. They receive Mr. Gruppy’s visit who asks about the pictures in the house and gets a ghost story. (To read only the ghost story, click here).

I am growing accustomed to the narrative moving away from Esther, but I cannot say that I like it. It is for her character that I wanted to read Bleak House and, although I am a hundred percent sure that all these “side” narratives will collide in Esther’s, it is a little bit boring to get through them at times. However, I did enjoy the ghost story and, being reading this chapter at night, I discovered myself shivering! But, it was definitely my lest favourite chapter on this Part II.

A description of Chesney Wold by a mastiff: So the mastiff, dozing in his kennel in the court-yard with his large head on his paws, may think of the hot sunshine when the shadows of the stable-buildings tire his patience out by changing and leave him at one time of the day no broader refuge than the shadow of his own house, where he sits on end, panting and growling short, and very much wanting something to worry besides himself and his chain. So now, half-waking and all-winking, he may recall the house full of company, the coach-houses full of vehicles, the stables full of horses, and the out-buildings full of attendants upon horses, until he is undecided about the present and comes forth to see how it is. Then, with that impatient shake of himself, he may growl in the spirit, “Rain, rain, rain! Nothing but rain—and no family here!” as he goes in again and lies down with a gloomy yawn.

My thoughts:

Part II is not that entertaining as Part I but there is a lot of useful information that will later on pop-up on the narrative and will force the reader to revisit this part. I loved that they all got to Bleak House and loved it. Inside me, there was this feeling that the house would resemble Miss Havisham’s and so would Mr. Jandyce. But, luckily for them, it seems a peaceful and homely place. I felt a little bit disappointed with myself when I found Esther was only the housekeeper and not a protegé like Ada. I know that Esther is Dickens’ Fanny Price (at least for what I have read until now) but I expect her to gain her own identity as the book progresses. In Part I, Chapter 2: A Progress, I did not pay attention to Esther burying her beloved doll in the garden of her house before leaving. Now, I see it as her first loss of identity, for she truly adored her doll. Such a loss is perpetuated when she arrives to Bleak House, she is giving the keys to all the rooms in the house and she feels that is not something that belongs to her… yet.

So, this is all for now! As I’m starting Part V tonight and I must admit I’m really addicted to this book. I have lots of free time, which really helps, but I am also caught up in the story and want to know more about Esther and whether she manages to find her own identity.

You can also read Bleak House for free thanks to Project Gutenberg – Bleak House HTML

Spring is here!

Spring is here (this actually means my Spring break is finally here!) so, I’ve decided to change a few, little things:

  • On the menu you can now find an About page with more information about me.
  • Now the blog has a contact email, to be found on the right sidebar.

The reason for these changes is that I want to make the blog more accessible, but at the same time more complex. I started blogging seriously after visiting my good friend Sadie-Jean’s blog. Then, I started meeting people and seeing how hard-working and devoted you all are to your blogs. Sometimes I do not have so much time to spend at Books and Reviews (especially during school time) but many other days I can’t wait to get home and publish a review, or my thoughts.

I don’t want to plan anything long-term, I prefer to see things happen little by little and spontaneously, because everyday we learn new things that change us (and I do want to apply all of them to reading and blogging). So, for now there are the changes.

Also a big thank you to anyone who takes the time to read my blog, and even a bigger thank you to those who share their opinions.

To all my fellow students out there, enjoy the break, study hard and prepare for the wonderful summer to come!