Sunday 16 June 2019

Review: Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Doubleday, €21.95, Hardback

First it's confession time. I've loved Kate Atkinson's novels for a long time. Fifteen years to be exact, after I discovered her debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Since then, I've eagerly anticipated each new release and I was really looking forward to savouring her latest work, Started Early, Took My Dog

From the opening pages of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I was hooked. It was narrated by all-seeing 17-year-old Ruby Lennox who fantasised about her own funeral and drew the reader into the past to uncover the unusual history of her family.

I wasn't alone in my admiration. Kate Atkinson's debut beat off strong competition from Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh to win the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 1995.

Her next two novels, the beautifully written Emotionally Weird and the imaginative Human Croquet, dealt with similar material, and while I enjoyed them, that initial excitement had dissipated.

But after her collection of short stories, Not the End of the World, Atkinson changed tack, and turned her pen to crime fiction in the wonderful Case Histories. Enter Jackson Brodie, the former police inspector turned private investigator, who has spent a lifetime hunting down "lost girls", driven by the murder of his teenage sister in the '60s.

Literary snobs may not have appreciated the change of direction, but Atkinson proved that she knew just how to weave an intriguing plot around inspired writing. She is concerned with just how our pasts affect our future and how some of the choices we make have long-lasting implications in our lives.

Boasting an unconventional plot, Case Histories is multi-layered and compelling. It illustrates vividly just how random violence and lust can destroy lives, but also how love and kindness can put them together again.

She followed this with the equally captivating One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News.

Both featured the complicated Jackson, were packed full of coincidence as characters' lives overlap and intersect and both entranced this reader.

Although Atkinson's heavy use of coincidence should be off-putting, such is the quality of her storytelling and writing that it simply doesn't matter.

There's lots of drama and unexpected twists in her tales. And the ending to When Will There Be Good News, a mix of joy and bleakness, left me eagerly anticipating her next novel.

But although Atkinson continues to weave her magic, it seems a little dimmed compared to the brilliance of Brodie's earlier adventures.

Started Early, Took My Dog links crimes committed in the '70s to questions being asked in the present day, and opens as WPC Tracy Waterhouse begins her career.

Back then, it was always the children who had got to her. Now she's working as a security chief in a suburban shopping centre. In a moment of madness, she makes a decision that sends her life spinning out of control and leads her to collide with Brodie who is on a mission of his own.

Atkinson has set the bar so high that although this is not a triumph of her career, it's still an engrossing read by any standards.

One that kept me up late at night to discover what would happen next. One to savour.

Irish Independent

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