Kate Atkinson, ‘Case Histories’

If you happen to wake up at 4.15am and can’t get back to sleep, you want the book on top of your reading pile ito be ‘Case Histories’. Next thing you know, it’s half past seven.

I happened to read ‘Case Histories’ not long after finishing Alice Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’. Richard and Judy notwithstanding, I really didn’t like ‘The Lovely Bones’. The premise of a murdered girl narrating the story sounded intriguing, but what you get is sentimental rather than moving, with characters who relapse into bleakness every time you think they’re about to do something interesting, all watched over by the girl in her saccharine heaven.

‘Case Histories’ is everything ‘The Lovely Bones’ is not, largely because Kate Atkinson’s characters are complex people in a complex world. Both books look at loss, and the hole that’s left in people’s lives when a family member dies violently. Kate Atkinson, however, has a sense of humour, and a sharp awareness that the ridiculous is always with us, as well as the mundane and the tragic. She’s also a genius at combining dialogue with a narration of one character’s thoughts, bringing out the contrasts between what people say, what they mean, and what other people think they mean, all in prose that zips past you so fast you don’t notice how good it is. And unlike ‘The Lovely Bones’, ‘Case Histories’ is a true detective story, in the best page-turning style.

My ‘Books I wish I’d written’ list is now longer.


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