April 2010

By complete coincidence, La Règle Du Jeu [The Rules of the Game, 1939] – the favourite movie of one of the central  characters in this mystery novel – was broadcast on Film4 the day our Book Circle met. The film is a bleak portrayal of capricious French high society which shocked its first audiences. Twisting a genre, La Règle imbued a well-loved comedy of manners with cynicism.  In the aptly named, When Will There Be Good News?, plausibility [as codified in RA Knox’s tongue-in-cheek Decalogue for detective fiction: ‘No more than one secret passage.’] retreats under a heavy barrage of absurd synchronicity.

‘Coincidence is an explanation waiting to happen,’ proclaims Jackson Brodie. But nothing can reasonably explain the numerous and often accidental ties the characters have to one another, the multiple tragedies each has had to endure, or the dearth of healthy relationships anywhere. Yet, for most readers, before Atkinson’s preposterous combination of whimsy and desolation tries our patience too far, the humanity of Reggie, Louise and Jackson wins us over.

Reggie Chase, 16, works as a nanny for Joanna Hunter, an Edinburgh GP; Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe takes it upon herself to bring the doctor some disturbing news; and at Northallerton, Jackson Brodie boards a train going in the wrong direction. Intrigue meshes with disaster which meshes with mistaken identity, while humour, usually served very black, kindness and sympathy are never absent. What many of us enjoyed most throughout this precarious tale were their sharp inner dialogues sprinkled with playful allusions and unsentimental opinion.

Since Atkinson’s first novel, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year, childhood tragedy, long-held secrets and toxic marriages are familiar themes. After three ‘literary’ novels, this is the third Jackson Brodie mystery. The series began with Case Histories and a fourth is due in August.

We meet again on Thursday 6th May when we shall discuss Unless by Carol Shields.

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