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Tuesday 5 August 2008

Not the End of the World

by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson has entitled this collection of short stories ‘Not the End of the World’. It is ironic then, that in the first story in this collection it evidently is the end of the world.

‘Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping’ is a story which makes full use of Atkinson’s deeply sensual and evocative language. It is full of visions, tastes, and sounds which explode onto the page and echo the bombs and sirens that are hidden behind the vivid tapestry that she has woven.

Like every good collection of short stories, this book has contrasting light and shade: from the deep sadness of ‘Tunnel of Fish’ to the rage of ‘Dissonance’ via the intrigue of ‘Transparent Fiction’.

One of my favourites in this collection is ‘Sheer Big Waste Of Love’. In this story we get to hear about the experiences of Addison, whose family give a whole new meaning to the word dysfunctional. In Addison, the author has created a subtly sympathetic character that we see through his own eyes as both child and adult.

Atkinson is arguably at her best in ‘The Cat Lover’, a truly astonishing tale with a startling premise and an ending that is both shocking and inevitable. This story also shows her at the height of her descriptive powers as she creates a world with elements of the real and the normal counterpointed with fantasy. She has also created some of her most beautiful imagery. ‘The queen of the north country visited the city … ice-crystals trembled like diamonds on her furs and when she shook out her cloak she left a storm of snowflakes in her wake.’

My only reservation about this volume is that the worlds that Kate Atkinson creates in her fiction can be so complex that they really need a whole novel in which to be explored. Some of them seem to burst the seams of the format of the short story. Anything that promotes the cause of the short story has to be a good thing though, and here we have a master of the art of fiction showing how it should be done.

reviewed by Helen M Hunt


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

It certainly sounds like an interesting read.

Anne Brooke said...

I can thoroughly recommend it - they're fabulous stories. It got me interested in Atkinson and her marvellous Jackson Brodie series for sure!


HelenMWalters said...

I'm really looking forward to reading the latest Jackson Brodie novel, although I've promised myself I won't buy any more books until my 'to be read' pile has gone down a little!

Anne Brooke said...

Me too - though being mean I'm waiting for the paperback!


Anonymous said...

Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly, recent pulled this out of my shelves of unread books and insisted that I get off my arse and read it.

So I will.

Anonymous said...

I liked the gentle suggestion of deeper mysticism in many of the stories in this collection. I also enjoyed the easy style, making them easy to read yet rich with descriptive content. That's where my praise ends though, I'm afraid.

The mystic hints never quite deliver and I was left with twelve rather simple tales with no real meat to them. The endings were often abrupt and unsatisfying as well, rather than conclusive or thoughtful. Throughout the book, there's a suggestion of linkage between the twelve stories. This is because the names of the characters are reused, and possibly the actual characters themselves, though these linkages are never fully developed. Either that, or there is just something about these stories that I didn't "get".

I love the Jackson Brody books though.