Because I was without power earlier this week for several days, I had the luxury of reading for hours each day as long as my flashlight batteries held up. Having immersed myself in Atkinson’s latest novel, I am sad to lose contact with many of the characters sometimes fragile, often courageous, always honest. Jackson Brodie, a semi-retired private investigator+, is in search of his second “wife,” who has conned him of his money. This search brings him in contact with a number of other people connected to the murder of a prostitute almost 40 years before and her lost children. A chilling parallel is the knowledge Carol Braithwaite was murdered several months before Jack the Ripper began his bloody march against women. Further, the callous disregard for the deaths of prostitutes by the police and their comments about their victimization were quiet yet powerful reminders of prostitution’s devastating impact on women and children.
Lost children is a haunting theme in the book; the stories of lost children are beautifully woven and reveal that awful truth of living life with that lost child standing in the shadows.
Kate Atkinson introduces nuances about characters and plot slowly, layering as she writes of events in the spring of 1975 and returns to the present. We don’t find out Jackson has a son until page 53. The plot is dark and as often positive as Brodie acknowledges his new found love for the four year old son and the peace he finds, the self he finds wandering in abbeys, monasteries and small towns.
Atkinson juggles this darkness and light skillfully. A few ideas and people especially moved me…Brodie thinking about the legacy Margaret Thatcher left on England referring to its “bleak victims” in small towns everywhere. ”Like with most countries, he discovered the puzzling jigsaw that was his native land seemed to be at odds with itself. A disunited kingdom”…the Chinese proverb that surfaced several times in fortune cookies – “The treasure here is you”…the reprehensible behavior of the police department involved in the 1975 murder and the sordidness and sleaziness that marked most of their careers…the redemption for those who confronted their tragic flaw…Tilly, the elderly actress struggling with the early stages of dementia…Tracy Waterhouse buying a child from a prostitute and building a new although secret life…”Be grateful for an ordinary life,” says Julie, the mother of his son, an actress, whose thoughts and opinions are forever in his head guiding him through his searches. Finally, the references to Emily Dickinson’s poetry, beginning with the title, gave this novel that extra depth that Atkinson always delivers.