INTERVIEW - PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
This has just appeared if anyone would like to know where CRY WOLF comes from
I closed my eyes and pulled a novel out of my bookcase last night.
I was pleased when I read the title; I’ve been a Kate Atkinson fan for some time.
I must have read six or seven of her books – is that the entire opus? – and I enjoyed them all, except for the last one, Life After Life, which didn’t hit the spot for me. (It was a sort of British Rashomon without the genius of Akira Kurosawa behind the camera directing operations). Still, a writer can’t be perfect all that time. And Kate Atkinson takes risks – big ones – so half the thrill of reading her novels lies in seeing whether she can carry it off successfully – in this case – after 349 pages.
Atkinson launches each novel by throwing any number of disparate strands into the cement mixer before flicking the switch and setting the mixer in motion. The blurb on my Doubleday paperback edition talks about “Dickensian brilliance, a tale peopled with unlikely heroes and villains,” but I see it differently. Each separate strand of the novel dangles on the brink of gross improbability, particularly where her central characters are concerned.
Started Early, Took My Dog is an excellent example.
Tracy Waterhouse is a retired cop – big, butch and distinctly unfeminine by her own assessment – until she steps off the cliff of dull and cynical respectability and does something which is as truly improbable as it is, well, nutty...
Tilly Squires, Miss Matilda Squires, is an ageing actress on the slippery slope to dementia, uncertain of the present, unsure of the past, troubled by a bleak future. ‘Confused’ is the word you would use to describe Tilly. ‘Nutty’ is another word that comes to mind...
Jackson Brodie, Kate Atkinson’s ‘detective’ is, well, he’s Jackson Brodie, isn’t he? He’s an ex-soldier, ex-cop, a sort of private investigator (specialising in the recovery of lost cats and dogs – hey, come off it, Kate!), though the reader is never quite sure what sort of PI Brodie is, or where his erratic investigations will lead him. Nutty again, right? Right.
Throw these three nutty characters into the arena in Leeds – was Leeds ever the scenario for a novel? – with a back-story involving the deprived child of a murdered prostitute, and a story that revolves around the fate of another deprived child, and there you have it. The questions is this: will the fabulous Kate be able to pull all these strands together and cross the finishing line to a burst of rapturous applause?
The final chapter says it all: we take a trip through Disneyworld Paris in the company of Tracy Waterhouse and the deprived child she has bought; we stroll through the ruins of Tintern Abbey with Jackson Brodie and the dog he has found; we are trapped inside a flat thirty years before with a child whose mother is dead; and we conclude with one of Emily Dickinson’s nuttiest poems:
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
There’s a lot more of the same, but you get the idea. The book is nutty, but it works wonderfully. (Rapturous applause!)
Hm, maybe I should read Life After Life again. I never did get to the last chapter...
Ps: One of my favourite words is funambulist. Hence the accompanying carte-de-visite of the supreme funambulist, Charles Blondin (born Jean François Gravelet, 1824) from my collection, which I dedicate to that exquisite literary tightrope-walker, Kate Atkinson.
Our friends think we’ve got a bee in our shared bonnet. Everywhere we look in Italy – even in sleepy Umbria where we live – we see signs of the mafia. And not just any old mafia. Oh no! We see the ’Ndrangheta...
A series of arrests in Italy yesterday seems to demonstrate that we may be right. It also suggests that everyone in Italy ought to have a bee in his/her own personal bonnet!
In case you still don’t know, the ’Ndrangheta is from Calabria in the extreme south of the Italy, and it is the most powerful of all the mafias. Calabria has always been the poorest region in the Italian peninsula. Many people say Calabria is poor because the ’Ndrangheta throttles development, while others believe with equal fervour that the ’Ndrangheta flourishes because Calabria is poor and unemployment is rife. If the State doesn’t provide, the analysts say, the criminal Anti-State will find work for idle hands, and money to finance their criminal activities. It’s a circular argument, and it all boils down to this: the ’Ndrangheta exists.
The ’Ndrangheta began as a rural reaction against political power in the nineteenth century, but the original Calabrian ‘brigands’ soon became a criminal power of a different sort. Anything that the ’Ndrangheta didn’t like (honest politicians, policemen, magistrates and rebellious priests) was eliminated. Anything the’Ndrangheta liked, they either took it or wanted a substantial share of the profits. The principle hasn’t changed in 150 years. The ’Ndrangheta grows rich by extortion and exploitation of the weak, and, more recently, by arms and drugs trafficking. Violence and murder are the rules of the game, and clan allegiance is absolute. If a member of the clan doesn’t follow orders, or if he fails to execute them properly, he dies. When a man is initiated into the clan he receives two things: a pistol and a cyanide tablet, and he is expected to use them – on himself!
As Italian magistrate, Ilda Boccasini, said yesterday: “The ’Ndrangheta overturns all human values.” She had just arrested forty affiliates from three ’Ndrangheta ‘families’ or criminal clans. Her team of investigators had filmed initiation rites as men became members of the ’Ndrangheta, swearing oaths of loyalty and fidelity in the name of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who conquered the south of Italy in the wars for Unity in 1860. Most surprising of all, however, was the fact that these arrests were made in the far north of Italy. Milan is in Lombardy, 931.35 kilometres from Reggio Calabria as the crow flies, 1132 kilometres if you go by road on a journey which will take you a minimum of 10 and a half hours to drive. And Lombardy just happens to be the industrial heart of Italy, the powerhouse of Italian finance, where money makes the world go round and EXPO 2015 (the international exhibition) is soon to begin. Billions of euros are up for grabs in the rush to finish the buildings, and the 'Ndrangheta is grabbing most of them.
Politicians reassure us continually: “The Mafia doesn’t exist in Milan.”
Yesterday, Magistrate Boccasini proved that they were wrong.
According to us, though, the 'Ndrangheta bought the politicians' silence a long time ago...
The accompanying photograph from my collection shows a Calabrian brigand named Luigi in about 1870.
Well, I have to apologise for the time which has elapsed since my last blog.
I’ve been ill for the last week and I spent four of those days in bed.
I had a cold...
A cold? Yep, a cold.
Most people seem to be able to live with a cold, but not me. A bad cold pitches me down from my usual state of wild optimistic enthusiasm into the darkest and grimiest depths of gloom and despair. I cannot work, I cannot think. I can’t eat, can’t drink, can’t smoke. It would be simpler to sum it up by saying: I cannot do a thing...
That goes for reading, too.
I had picked Michael Cox’s ‘The Meaning of Night’ (John Murray, 2006) from my bookshelf and I was looking forward to checking it out again. I bought it when it first came out, and I enjoyed it so much that I read it once, then read it again. That is, I enjoyed it as only a true lover of Victorian fiction can. It is a long novel, full of characters, chock full of twists and turns, and oceans of lavish prose...
And there you have it.
In my feverish, depressed physical condition, I was defeated.
I got to page 237, and I got no further. Now, this is not to say that I was disappointed by “The Meaning of Night.” Not at all. In fact, I began to read it again in bed last night, and I am hooked once again. However, in fairness to the book, it should be said that my criteria for judging the final chapter of a novel as its making- or breaking-point just does not hold true, particularly in this case. Michael Cox’s first novel was a desperate labour of love, and it deserves and requires labour and love from any reasonable reader.
I remember the shock I felt in 2009 when I read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/books/19cox.html?_r=0
After writing an historical crime novel that had taken the world by storm, Michael Cox died of cancer. Could any fate be crueller? Indeed, nothing more was heard of the author until 2012, when his publisher, John Murray, announced ‘The Glass of Time,’ which has only been released so far as an ebook, I believe, and about which I know next to nothing, except that it appears to be a sequel to ‘The Meaning of Night’ if Amazon reviewers can be believed:
So, let’s make no final judgements, but recommend ‘The Meaning of Night’ to posterity.
By the way, I have ordered ‘The Glass of Time’ on my wife’s kindle...