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This first book-length study of Kate Atkinson’s multifaceted œuvre is a comprehensive introductory overview of her novels, play and stories. It situates Atkinson’s literary production in terms of an aesthetics of hydridity that appropriates and re-combines well-known genres (coming-of-age novel, detective fiction, historical novel) and narrative techniques. This book explores the singularity and significance of Atkinson’s complex narratives that engage the reader in contemporary issues and insight into human concerns through a study of the major aspects and themes that tie in her work (the combination of tradition and innovation, the relationship to the collective and personal past, to history and memory, all impregnated with humour and a feminist standpoint). It pursues a broadly chronological line through Atkinson’s literary career from Behind the Scenes at the Museum to Big Sky, the latest instalment in the Brodie sequence, through the celebrated Life After Life and subsequent re-imaginings of the war. Alongside the well-known novels, the book includes a discussion of her less-studied play and collection of short stories. Chapters combine the study of formal issues such as narrative structure, perspective and point of view with thematic analyses.
This chapter contends that Atkinson’s three historical novels display a ‘fresh commitment to what we might call the reality of history’ (Peter Boxall) when the past is rendered through specific innovative ways marked by hybridity that combine self-consciousness with a sense of realism and immersion that draw the reader in the novel. This chapter examines Life After Life as a forking-path narrative that renews the historical novel and invites a reflexion on the representation of the past. A God in Ruins is analysed as a companion novel to Life After Life that brings into focus issues of memory and oblivion. Finally, this chapter considers how Transcription revisits the spy genre and its theme of secrecy.
This chapter focuses on Atkinson’s first three novels. Metafictional, self-conscious and intertextual, they particularly bear the mark of postmodernism because they offer textual games and a feast of narrative strategies. It reads these early novels as narratives of self-discovery, feminist narratives of development that rework traditional forms like the Bildungsroman and the fairy tale.
This chapter analyses how Kate Atkinson introduces dissonance in the genre of detective fiction as she combines tradition with postmodern aspects and with her own distinctive marks: excess and expansiveness, complex plots with a sustained interest in character that are narrated through disrupted temporality that unsettles readers’ expectations. The chapter considers the Brodie novels as a sequence and examines how the stock character of the private detective is appropriated. It discusses the relationship to the past and the realist representation that is then deflated by metafictional devices and intertextuality. Finally, it analyses the use of chance and coincidence as narrative strategies.
This chapter first considers the literary and theoretical background to Atkinson’s work that encompasses postmodernism and its aftermath. It then points to some idiosyncratic elements of her aesthetics: the combination of tradition and innovation particularly noticeable in her alliance of flowing narratives and fragmentation, the use of humour, the concern for history and memory and the feminist dimension of her work.
This chapter argues that, contrary to the general view that Atkinson’s narratives convey a strong sense of closure because everything seems to fall into place at the end, they self-consciously de-naturalise closure to make way for a poetics of unrest in which comfort is eventually partly denied to the reader. It shows how the early novels in particular display ‘hyperclosure’. It examines Atkinson’s appropriation of the surprise ending in the novels that offer a twist at the end. Finally, it considers how she weaves a form of poetic justice and instability into her crime fiction.
This chapter examines Kate Atkinson’s play, Abandonment (2000) and her collection of stories, Not the End of the World (2002). It reads Abandonment as a neo-Victorian play that entwines two temporalities and social worlds and analyses the expansive nature of Not the End of the World. Both texts are shown to confirm Atkinson’s predilection for female characters and gender issues, the complexity of representations of the past and a hybrid form of realism, for instance, with the inclusion of a ghost in her play and Greek gods in her stories.