Case Histories

Author: Kate Atkinson

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 2004

I read it: September 2018

case histories

I’d only read Atkinson’s more recent pair of WWII stories, Life After Life and A God in Ruins, and didn’t know much of her past work. But Case Histories was one that my wife had recommended, and at some point I found a battered hardcover on the library sale rack or somewhere similar. It sat in my desk drawer at work for a couple of years and then I heard of the newest Atkinson book, Transcription, coming out within the year, so I thought I may as well knock this one out first.

Atkinson is a writer. You should have no hesitation to pick up this book.

The plot is swift and deep. It’s both a murder mystery (at least three murder mysteries, essentially), as well as a spread of intimate character studies. The throughline ends up being the journey of former cop and current private eye Jackson Brodie, whose divorce has left him deflated (“Jackson went round to every room in the house to check that nothing had been left behind, apart from their lives, of course.”) and is now hired to track strange cases intersecting at the same time.

But the cast is large, with several secondary and tertiary characters to consider. Atkinson writes with her finger on the pulse of past and present, with wit and loneliness swirling around each other on the page, and many sharp sarcastic observations that emerge from the minds of her characters (“It was only after he left school and joined the army that he discovered he was intelligent.”). Her book is the definition of a literary page-turner, filled with harsh truths about grief like “Time did not heal—it merely rubbed at the wound, slowly and relentlessly.” And: “How strange it was that people just kept on going, even when their world no longer existed.”

I read this book faster than expected, and getting into more details would unnecessarily break down the plot of a brilliantly structured novel. I’m now extra excited for Transcription to arrive.

Cover art corner: Does anyone find the cover of this version as bland as I do? Maybe that’s why I overlooked this book for as long as I did! Although on the back, it was cool to see that the first blurb was by the equally gifted Jim Crace.

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