History is Kate Atkinson’s subject in every book (well every book that I’ve read), not just history in the sense of World War II in Life After Life and Transcription, but history in terms of all the pieces of what we have done, experienced, seen or thought about makes us who we are today, and she is an expert in introducing that history one piece at a time, and moving us from one moment to the next to different times and places. And Jackson Brodie, the private detective that she first introduced in Case Histories in 2004, is back again after nearly a 10 year hiatus. He is the centre of this book, and he isn’t, but he is torn apart by all his conflicting and conflicted histories, and he fails to operate in the world he inhabits,, or succeeds despite his failures.
Another part of Atkinson’s genius is the way her major and minor characters all have depth. Almost no one is there just to carry a spear. And, I am always amazed at how she gives just enough of their story to deepen the character, saving more for later. Their are heroes here, and there are very evil people, but most are in between trying to make their way and failing, some failing their way to love or friendship, others failing their way to failure.
I am not going to tell you the story. It involves Brodie and his ex-partner and their son and their dog Dido; it involves women who have been or are being used and controlled by men; it involves women who overcome the darkness; it involves children who find themselves in dark spaces who come through; it involves so many more characters worth meeting, and it involves sex trafficking, Epstein-esque soirees, where we see the evil and the suffering without it wallowing in horror and gore. The characters are glorious and more than worth spending time with. Read the book. Read everything she has written–I feel confident in saying that, despite not having read everything.