Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Case Histories, Kate Atkinson

This is one of those books I continually found myself gravitating towards while shelving. I would pick it up, look at it, open it, set it down again. I read a great review. Still I didn't read it. A friend of mine called me up and said he was strongly considering reading it. I bought it. I'm glad I did.

While certainly compelling, I wouldn't quite say you can't put it down. You can. I didn't want to stay up until 3am to read it. But I did want to grab it whenever I had a chance to do some reading - even if only for a few minutes over breakfast. So, compelling is how I would summarize it.

Mostly, though, I loved Kate Atkinson's use of detail. A character whom you may only meet a handful of times is first described with such character that you get a feeling for his personal history, something not normally considered useful when dealing with a character who will not make more than a few brief appearances. She takes loads of details and weaves them so smoothly through the narrative that its like reading a personal letter or having someone stand in front of you with their active hands and be very animated about what (or who) they are describing. You have to step back and re-examine the text to really see just how much detail she is using. I love this! Too much detail can be...suffocating. Not in the hands of Kate Atkinson. Her details are old-school, sumptuous, delicate and this book would be nothing without them.

The writing style overall is a very classic style. It makes for highly polished reading despite being a modern story about modern people with modern mystery holding it all together.

The story is simple. Think of the movie Crash. A simple film about a multitude of characters whose lives all collide. Same thing here. Its more about people than it is about dead or disappeared children. That's not to say you don't want to find out the truth. You do. But there is so much more than that. The who-dunit part isn't so important compared to how people become who they are and do what they do. Its seeing how a few simple steps can lead to tragic consequences. But then these same tragedies can breathe life back into the affected people left behind.

The only hesitation I have about any of this book is the no-resolution of one storyline. That of the missing child, Tanya. If the other case histories were not resolved in any fashion for the reader, the lack of resolution in one would no mean a thing. But the fact that we have clarification on all but this one. It is slightly disappointing. Not terribly, because there are hints to a clarification that we have to come to on our own, as a reader.

Or perhaps it's simply me reading between the lines, getting caught up in the hope and sadness of the families we meet. Which appears to be precisely what the writer wants from the reader.

Recommended for Those With a Heart

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