Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion's Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –

- Emily Dickinson

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson: Kate Atkinson's fourth novel about semi-retired private investigator Jackson Brodie. Brodie has discovered Emily Dickenson, an appropriately melancholy muse, and echoes of longing, of nostalgia, of isolation, reverberate throughout. Although the Jackson Brodie novels appear to a mystery series, Atkinson has never really left her literary novel origins. Yes, Jackson ultimately solves murders, but at their heart, these novels are about finding the lost (especially lost girls), the connections between human beings, and the way the past is never really gone. This novel opens with the story of a murdered prostitute in 1975. Rookie cop Tracy Waterhouse (who has eradicated all traces of femininity in an attempt to break the glass ceiling) is deeply moved by the small child who spent three weeks with his mother's corpse before discovery. When she tries to find out what became of the child, she is told to forget about it. Fast forward to present day. Tracy is now retired from the police, and in her capacity as a mall security guard, she finds herself purchasing a mistreated little girl from a prostitute because she can't bear to leave the child to be abused. Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie is a vagabond searching for a con woman and hints of the origin of his adopted client. At the same time, he is ticking ruined abbeys of Yorkshire off his "must visit" list, and improbably adopts a small dog. His search will cause his sphere of events to intersect with Tracy's. Also in the mix are Tilly, an aging actress slowly succumbing to dementia, Tracy's former colleagues, a social worker, and another private investigator named Jackson whom our Jackson is starting to view as his doppelganger. All these barely connected stories are about to collide, pushing the events of 1975 into the light of the present day.

Kate Atkinson is a master of creating a cohesive story from distinct and apparently unconnected events, of bringing together characters who appear to have nothing in common, of drawing together past and present. STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG has the feel of a Dickinson poem; it moves more slowly and embraces elegiac pauses. For all the searching for lost girls, all the nostalgia as Jackson and other characters wonder how the world reached this state, Atkinson's wry, piercing humor prevents excessive melancholy.

While this novel could be read on its own, I highly recommend beginning with CASE HISTORIES.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

1 comment:

Mary said...

I just finished this book. For me, it was OK. I liked the way the author tied together all the disparate stories BUT I really had to pay attention because she skipped around so much time wise AND story wise. I decided I probably wouldn't read any other books by this author because this one was just too much work. I read to escape. Keeping track of all the disparate parts of this book was a bit much for me. For a less lazy reader, this book would very likely be perfect.