Louise, myself and our two best friends go on holiday together pretty much every year, and for a long time these holidays involved elaborate, dancing book swaps. Perhaps ten books would travel with us, and we’d pass them from one to the other, and it was almost an unwritten law that these books had to be read by everyone, even if you didn’t like them at the start.
And then I gradually dropped off this little book swap, I think mainly because the other three are worryingly excited byÂ pretty gruesome murder thrillers. Patricia Cornwell started the slide, but it turned into a fully fledged fall when they all were reading Stieg Larsson and I…. wasn’t. More of which another time, perhaps (but read Tim Parks on Larsson, which says pretty much what I think, only it says it well).
Long story short, this departure of mine from the book swap field meant I missed Kate Atkinson. So I’m very late to this party. I’d been meaning to check her out for ages, because I remember seeing Stephen King being effusive about her, and I remember thinking that was a bit odd, a legendary horrormeister being effusive about an English woman with a nice line in funny, middle-class mysteries.
Well, I read Case Histories last week, and I can see why King raved about her. It’s actually not quite like anything I’ve read before. It leaves you occasionally confused in the most profound way, and there’s a point two-thirds in when I became actually angry at how random everything was seeming, and then it all starts slotting together with an easy sense of style and timing, and before you know it you’re completely locked in and pulling another Atkinson off the shelf. As a tyro writer, it was a masterclass in suspense, timing and comic relief, and a lesson that a skilful author can rather knowingly exploit a reader’s trust that something must be about to happen to keep said reader hanging on for a little bit longer, just until it starts to hurt.
And her last novel has got the best title of anything I’ve seen in years: Started Early, Took My Dog. Louise and our two friends have already read it, needless to say.