ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie were adapted for the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs. Her 2013 novel Life After Life won the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, and voted Book of the Year for the independent booksellers associations on both sides of the Atlantic. It also won the Costa Novel Award, as did her subsequent novel A God in Ruins. Need we say more?
…the great novels of the world were about three things – death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale.
Kate Atkinson’s novels have always been built around lost girls, from the Whitbread-winning family saga Behind the Scenes at the Museum to her current crime series. This is the fourth book, in which a single incident grows into a convoluted plot. Tracy, a retired policewoman; Tilly, a frail aging actress; and Jackson Brodie are all fated to have their lives interwoven by lost, stolen, purchased, or kidnapped children — along with deceit, tragedy and murder.
As ever, Atkinson’s prose is perfectly designed to twinkle and slice by turns. Her playful sense of humor dances round the darkness of her themes. She gracefully skips through and negotiates the difficult steps required to balance the reader’s need for a satisfying resolution with a realist’s view of human nature and the messiness of real-life criminality. An irrepressible exuberance shines throughout. Started Early, Took My Dog is no different in this regard.
The plot also stands out for its reliance on coincidence and an unmistakable resistance to neat resolution, both of which run counter to the standard pleasures that crime genre generally has on offer. Atkinson has an innate ability to come up with passages that simply have to be read twice, once when you first travel through the book and then later on, when you want to see just how effortlessly she tricked you. Hint (read spoiler alert): there’s a little whiff on Page 182 that definitely deserves an after-the-fact look!
Started Early, Took My Dog is about the bruising passage of time, and whether we grow hardened to the world or become raw by rubbing against it. So much of the narrative is retrospective or interior that there is no element of urgency to unfolding events, which are nonetheless highly colorful. And there’s a rhetorical whimsy reminiscent of some of Atkinson’s earlier books, a devil-may-care gesturing at the novel’s own fictionality, which can leave the characters threatening to float free of our trust in them.
…she was just like everyone else, she wanted to love someone. Even better if they loved you in return.
Atkinson’s characters tend to have bleak pasts, which she makes the most of, even if sometimes to the point of distraction. She frequently takes the readers deep into long streams of consciousness, exposing her characters’ manias and phobias, syndromes and neuroses. As one might rightly expect, she invariably seems to lose the plot’s urgency in such passages.
At times, understanding the characters’ connections with other characters is a struggle for readers since Atkinson creates faint clues rather than any jaw-dropping, “Aha!” moments. Her purposes as a writer are sometimes unclear, insofar as she toys with readers. At times, she tricks the readers with quirky devices such as asking them to keep up with changes in time and place, even in points of view. One episode starts with “Six Months Ago.” One is titled only with a day’s name, e.g. “Wednesday;” and another, “1974: New Year’s Eve.” Let the reader figure it out.
Oh, in case you have been wondering, the dog in the title is a happy young dog, and a hero and foil for his master, Brodie Jackson. His presence in the title, and, by extension, in the story, adds redemptive elements to the novel. It is also, of course, an obvious symbol of the lost-and-found theme of Started Early, Took My Dog. But these are not enough to hide the tragedy of the plot and its characters’ moral failings.
Grabbing 4.2 stars out of 5, Started Early, Took My Dog is an enigmatic ride. This book cannot be simply read. It must also be wrestled with, and that is where much of the fun lies.
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