19 December 2011

Started early, took a long time

I wasn't totally discouraged by my attempts to make sense of Kate Atkinson's first novel. I still had good memories about Case Histories. Besides, I'd bought a paperback copy of the newest of Atkinson's books about the adventures of Jackson Brodie, Started Early, Took My Dog. Not only was it a paperback book, I bought it at the end of term sale at Carleton's book store.

As with Case Histories, the book starts out with a plethora of names and few other identifiers. I finally resorted to taking notes, like I did when I read Queen of the Night. Some of the people figured prominently in the stories. Some of the people just happened to be in the area. I was over two-thirds of the way into the book before I could stop checking my notes every couple paragraphs. Here are the notes I took at the back of the book. (I long for the days of the huge Russian novels I used to read that had the casts of characters listed at the front of the book.)

It was about two-thirds of the way into the book that Atkinson began to really tell her main story. That's probably why I didn't have to refer to my character notes as much. Atkinson has stories, lots of them: backstories, side stories, distracting stories, main stories. At the beginning there are few hints about which is which. And she writes little scenes from these stories and seemingly throws them into the book, often without warning. No chapters to speak of. Sometimes a date, sometimes not. Sometimes a horizontal line between scenes, sometimes not. And there are lots of people. Did I say that already?

I really don't want to work this much for a diverting mystery story (or two). I'm having second thoughts about going back and reading the two other Jackson Brodie books. In addition, the plots of the two main stories are, to my mind, overly complex. And the resolution was too quick and slick. It was almost as though Atkinson's word processor told her she had written 100,000 words and she felt she needed to end the book before she got to 105,000 words. [The endings of the television series Bones are like that. (It's one of the three or four TV series that gets watched at our house.) Big mystery, fantastical scientific investigation, a little detective work, and in the last 2 minutes the bad guy confesses or is said to have been arrested. Quick and slick.]

I liked wondering about the main mystery and one of the subsidiary ones. There was one good red herring. Some of the over-complexity was caused by a less than interesting back story. Jackson Brodie needs to get over himself before there's another story about him. Atkinson has to get over over-complicating her novels. Complexity and obscurity do not make for better story telling. (Although at times I think that's what critics imply.)

Have you read Started Early, Took My Dog? What did you think? Anyone besides Dan read other Kate Atkinson books? How did you react? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your response. Or you can just post a comment at the end of this blog entry.

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