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Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel Hardcover – March 21, 2011
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The Amazon Book Review
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I always make a compilation tape for Jackson for each book. I find it’s rather like a meditation, something I come back to on a regular basis when I’m writing because in some mysterious way it reminds me of the essence of each particular book. He, and I, like country music but that’s quite a broad church. Sometimes it’s apparent to me why I’ve chosen certain tracks and at other times I’m not at all sure of the reason. There are a lot of songs about dead mothers and orphaned children for Case Histories and When Will There Be Good News, and more than a few about death and heaven in Started Early. (Jackson’s taste is strictly on the melancholic side.) At the moment I’m writing a book that begins in 1910 and goes through the Second World War so just now I’m listening to music from the Twenties and Thirties, rather odd and not entirely to my taste. I’m looking forward to Glenn Miller and the Andrew Sisters--not Jackson’s taste at all! --Kate Atkinson
Lee Child: This is the fourth Jackson Brodie book. It's starting to look suspiciously like a series! What brought you back this time?
Kate Atkinson: I never intended to write more than the first one -- which was Case Histories -- but I wrote it so quickly -- which was highly unusual for me -- that I somehow felt as if I hadn't finished with the form and the characters. And then it became the 'power of three' and I thought "one more" and then I found I had unfinished business for Jackson and it became four. I honestly don't know how that happened. There is something seductive about the shape of a detective novel, or at any rate of using a detective in a novel, because it gives you a ready-- made dynamic and a reason for introducing characters to whom interesting things happen as opposed to, say, starting with a whole load of people in a bank or an office and thinking so what are their stories, and what's going to happen to them? (Although, even as I'm writing that, I'm thinking oh, actually that sounds quite intriguing).
Child: Your career so far shows you're not afraid to write whatever you choose. It's as if you've been in and out of several different rooms in the house. Is that fun?
Atkinson: Yes! I get bored quite easily but also there are so many ways of writing out there to explore. To run with the house analogy -- I love houses and there are so many lovely ones that I'll never have a chance to live in because life is short and so is money. It's the same with different styles and genres of writing. I hope before I die I manage to write a romantic novel (because I never write any kind of romance) and I would love to be able to write a children's book, but I think they are the most challenging of all.
Child: Is it easier to write the Brodie books than the others? Or harder?
Atkinson: I found the Brodie books easy to begin with, and then very difficult to finish. I haven't actually finished with him yet but at the moment he's taking a holiday somewhere restful. I found the new book really hard but I think I'd just run out of steam with the character. I'm writing something completely different at the moment and it's amazing how much energy I have for it and what a relief it feels! I think the next time I re-visit Jackson it will be with that same kind of enthusiasm -- and he (and I) will be all the better for having taken a break from each other!
Child: You write about Yorkshire with a certain exasperated affection. You were born there, right?
Atkinson: I am actually a patron of the Yorkshire Tourist Board! I think it's true of everyone in exile -- I live in Edinburgh -- no matter how mild the form, that you have a longing for what you have left behind.
I think the older you get the stronger that is -- not so much nostalgia, but a feeling that your heart is in another place. I may be kidding myself there and, like Jackson, there are certain parts of Yorkshire that I would never want to re-visit, but like him I think there are places in North Yorkshire that do mark it out as God's Own county. (I don't know why Yorkshire people are so fervently patriotic about their county!) My whole family is settled in Scotland so that kind of prevents me from moving back although I dream about that little cottage in the Dales, Aga in the kitchen, sheep bleating outside the window...
(Photo of Kate Atkinson © Martin Hunter; photo of Lee Child © Sigrid Estrada;)
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. British author Atkinson's magnificently plotted fourth novel featuring Jackson Brodie (after When Will There Be Good News?) takes the "semi-retired" PI back to his Yorkshire hometown to trace the biological parents of Hope McMasters, a woman adopted by a couple in the 1970s at age two. Jackson is faced with more questions than answers when Hope's parents aren't in any database nor is her adoption on record. In the author's signature multilayered style, she shifts between past and present, interweaving the stories of Tracy Waterhouse, a recently retired detective superintendent now in charge of security at a Leeds mall, and aging actress Tilly Squires. On the same day that Jackson and Tilly are in the mall, Tracy makes a snap decision that will have lasting consequences for everyone. Atkinson injects wit even in the bleakest moments—such as Jackson's newfound appreciation for poetry, evoked in the Emily Dickinson–inspired title—yet never loses her razor-sharp edge. (Mar.)
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The main character (who for some reason I kept picturing as a Hugh Jackson type with an "I've-had-about-enough" attitude) is a detective relentlessly determined to solve a crime, with a side story about a woman and a little girl that is just as rich.
Kate Atkinson has the ability to describe characters to the point you almost feel like you know them personally. And her unexpected twists and dry sense of humor throughout is fantastic. I immediately bought this book.
By the end of this novel I was crushed that I was no longer able to be part of the lives of these intriguing and incredibly well-described characters. I immediately checked out Kate Atkinson's first two books in the "Jackson Brody" series, which offered details of the detective's background, but sadly the stories weren't great (in my opinion).
I am now about to read other books by Kate Atkinson that are not part of this series, but can only hope she has another installment of Jackson Brody planned for the near future.
Tracy Waterhouse is a retired policewoman who one day, out of sheer impulse, tries to slightly even the odds. Tracy, like most Kate Atkinson characters, has never really amounted to anything, and now that she’s in her fifties, she can clearly see that the best part of her life is now behind her. When she sees a well-known prostitute in public with a burden of a child, she obviously feels incredibly sorry for the small girl as her unloving mother is yelling, cursing and abusing her in broad daylight. It just so happens that Tracy is carrying quite a bit a cash at the moment, so she approaches the prostitute with a rather imprudent offer. She’ll buy her child from her. Well, as altruistic of a notion as this is, it’s not exactly legal, is it? So from here, the story kicks into high gear. Tracy is now on the run with her new “daughter”.
If you know Kate Atkinson, however, you know that she really can’t give us a simple, linear story such as I just described. So safe to say, there are lot of other ingredients that are thrown into this literary stew. We meet lots of other people with lots of other issues, and even go back in time 40 years to tell a lot of this tale. This can be a bit too much for some readers. One of the other people that we meet is former detective Jackson Brodie. This is the fourth (and to date, last) installment of Jackson Brodie in a Kate Atkinson novel, and in a strange way, this story is just as much about him as Tracy Waterhouse. Early in the story, Jackson “rescues” a small dog from an abusive owner, and we see many parallels between Jackson and his new dog and Tracy and her new little girl.
The fact that Jackson is a retired detective is always a bit misleading to some readers. Yes, Jackson does do a bit of sleuthing here and there, but Atkinson’s stories are never really “crime solving” books. With most “detective” authors, the writer spends much of the book slowly advancing the plot towards a conclusion. 90% of the book seems to be about moving along the plot lines, whereas only 10% seems to be about the characters’ backgrounds. With Atkinson, this ratio is basically reversed. We read so much about the people, their experiences and their sordid histories, that the actual plot is really secondary in terms of interest. Again, many readers don’t like this, but Atkinson does a marvelous job with her details and descriptions, that I tend to view reading her work as a breath of fresh air since these types of stories are so radically different than the average.
It also can be a turnoff that all of Atkinson’s characters seem to live hopelessly miserable lives. This particular book didn’t seem to be quite as morose as some of her others, but it could be that I’ve just become immune to all of these sullen individuals. I also find it a bit ironic that Atkinson seems to have a very strong aversion to God, religion, and any kind of faith, and her descriptions of her faithless characters can be a bit overwhelming. It seems like in every one of her books, she describes events in all of her character’s lives such as:
“She then prayed, but wasn’t sure what she was praying to, since she wasn’t religious.”
“He then went into a cathedral, which he hadn’t been any type of church for 40 years, since he wasn’t religious.”
“When the girl sneezed, she said ‘God Bless You’, although she wasn’t sure why, since she wasn’t religious.”
And on and on and on. There are types when I felt like approaching Kate Atkinson and saying “Well, you know, maybe if some of your characters had a bit of faith they wouldn’t all be so miserable!” But never mind. This is supposed to be a book review, not a theological discussion.
Like most of Atkinson’s books, she manages to juggle all of the different people living in all of the different timeframes quite well, and manages to tie up everything neatly in the end. If you are a fan of Kate Atkinson, I would highly recommend this book. It’s a bit sad to see Jackson no longer featured in her latter works, but I see no reason why he can’t come back. Sadly, he’s probably existing out there in a parallel literary world being….what else…..somewhat miserable.
Note: Supposedly the BBC has started a TV series around Jackson Brodie. I’ve heard that the t.v. series is nothing like the books either. So if you’re a fan of one, you may not necessarily be a fan of the other.
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