Sunday, June 12, 2011

The most fun you can have with a crime novel: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

This is the second of the Atkinson novels featuring private investigator Jackson Brodie.  It reads differently to Case Histories, the first of the series.  Unlike Case Histories, which is more symmetrical  in it's narrative, there are more twists and complexities in One Good Turn than one would find  in the back streets of Edinburgh (where this story is set).  It is however, just as satisfying if not more so, than the first novel. 

But what really stands out with One Good Turn, is that Atkinson is deliberately turning the crime novel on its head and having some real fun with it. Nor is this book what is generally referred to as "cosy fiction" either.  Atikinson manages to combine pith and pathos with witty humour and irony.  I have read more crime fiction, of every sort, than bears thinking about, and these novels really offer something unique.

Poor ol' Jackson is at a bit of a loose end at the start of this novel. His  girlfriend is taking part in a truly awful play as part of the festival. But after witnessing a road rage incident, Jackson is soon caught up in events that include murder, dodgy housing developments, brutish felons, a risque cleaning service and a paid assassin. 

As with Case Histories, Atkinson creates a wonderful sense of place, this time in Edinburgh.  I have been to that magical fairy land city and as Jackson remarks in the novel, it does often seem like everyone there is a tourist or a student.

Mixed in with this clever escapade, is a good exploration of how guilt and longing are so often a large part of  what drives people.  All of the characters, including dear Jackson, find themselves wondering what might have been over major life decisions and how those decisions have transported them to this crazy few days at the Edinburgh Festival. 

Atkinson's nimble plotting left me breathless, but what I love most about these novels is that neither she nor her leading man Jackson, take themselves too seriously.  Whatever emotional, or physical, mess Jackson gets himself into, he promptly dusts himself off for the next dose of life.   And I for one, can't wait to read where life next takes him.

Review: Scission by Tim Winton

Scission is an early collection of short stories by Australian author Tim Winton.  "Scission" is the theme that unites all of the stories.  And yes, the word had me running to the dictionary, I will freely admit. It means the tearing, or ripping apart of of something.

All of the stories highlight the moment when someone's world is split or torn apart.  For the majority of the 13 stories, the scission represents an emotional awakening where there are often, but not always, negative real world consequences.  It is a testamont to Winton's skill as a writer that he is able to describe this subterranean world of human emotion so vividly.

I loved these stories for many reasons. One reason is because the writing is as good as the writing in his best novels.  If anything, I have found that good writers bring an even sharper edge to their short fiction, that is certainly the case with Scission.  These stories hit the reader with an almighty visceral wallop,

The first story "Secrets" is about a young girl trying to come to terms with the changes in her family as a new step father takes over the power in her home.  "A Blow, A Kiss" is a moving portrayal of a father and son's insecurities, but underlying love for each other, as, on the way home from a day's fishing expedition, they come across a motor bike accident victim, on a deserted road.  "Neighbours" comments on multiculturalism in Australia, in a poignant tale of a newly wedded couple who, move into a house in a culturally diverse neighbourhood, and are awakened to understand that differences with their neighbours are tiny compared to what they all share. Although Winton wrote this story 25 years ago, it is a tale equally relevant, if not more needed, in the Australia of today.

All of the stories are really a preparation for the the last longer short story in the collection titled "Scission", it is about the collapse of a relationship with the worst possible outcome.  This story did unnerve me because as shocking and violent as the scenario is, we hear of relationships ending in death on a regular basis in the media, even today. 

Not all of Winton's writing will be to everyone's taste, at times he does appear to completely let go and his work can feel a bit disjointed and  abstract.  There is no spoon feeding here.  But I have found that by letting go myself and just absorbing the words without worrying about the exactness of things, the whole is revealed and usually leaves me gasping.  He is a fine, original writer.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Free Short Story App

I can't not share this Short Stories Ereader application for the iphone.  It is free and easy to use and there are hundreds of old and modern stories to download.  Stories are also added daily.  I have found it very handy when I have a few free minutes somewhere and have neglected to bring a book with me.  You can get it here