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When Will There Be Good News?
Reading Group Guide
1. “Love wasnt sweet and light, it was visceral and overpowering. Love wasnt patient, love wasnt kind. Love was ferocious, love knew how to play dirty.” This thought runs through Jacksons mind as he fingers the lock of Nathans hair in his pocket. How is this take on love exhibited in the novel?
2. One reviewer has said that Reggie is perhaps the novels “most moral character.” Do you agree, or not? What does it mean to be moral in the midst of such extreme or horrific events? Is there a character you would consider to be immoral?
3. When Jackson is staring at the sky and bleeding to death in the ditch, he thinks, “There were days that really surprised you with the way they turned out.” Talk about Kate Atkinsons use of unexpected humour and understatement at dramatic points in the novel. Do you find that this technique heightens or diminishes your emotional engagement?
4. How does Jackson evolve over the course of this book? At the end, what do you imagine his immediate future involves? And will Louise, or any other character here, be a part of that?
5. While reading, did you ever ask yourself: “When will there be good news?” Do you get the sense that any of the main characters would have? Or are some of them just the type to just get on with living, and not dwell on notions of good or bad? What is the good news here, in the end?
6. Discuss how Atkinson balances outrageous humour and day-to-day life experiences with the darkness and sadness that is so prevalent in this novel.
7. Nursery rhymes, hymns and traditional poems appear throughout the novel — in Jacksons memories of learning by rote or of his childhood, in scenes where Joanna and Reggie entertain the baby (e.g., the last page). What function do you think these rhymes serve, for the characters and for you as a reader?
8. When we first enter Joanna Hunters perspective since her disappearance, in “Abide With Me,” were still unsure of where she is and why shes missing. But we do learn that shes considered killing the baby and then herself. Did you ever believe she would do that?
9. Joanna Hunter can never escape the murder of her mother and siblings, Reggie continues to mourn the death of her mother, and Jackson considers his true home to be “the dark and sooty chamber in his heart that contained his sister and his brother.” In what ways has loss made each of them stronger? Or weaker?
10. Who is your favourite character in this novel, and why? Was there anyone that you just couldnt connect with?
11. We only learn of Andrew Deckers path through third-person accounts of his interactions with others. What do you think really happened to him? Do you believe that he broke into Jacksons house to commit suicide?
12. Many of the chapter titles echo or are taken from other stories, hymns, poems, and novels. For instance, “Satis House” is another name for Miss Havishams home in Great Expectations (which Reggie is reading when the thugs accost her at the bus stop), and “Nada Y Pues Nada” is taken from Hemingways story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” (which is also a chapter title later in the book). What does this literary layering add to the novel?
13. As Jackson tells us, “A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.” In what way does this statement apply to the form of When Will There Be Good News?
14. In a video interview on her website, Kate Atkinson speaks of how she doesnt usually have a strong idea of where her stories are going when she starts writing: “If they were plotted, they would be more straightforward, like a road map. But of course theyre not, they twist about each other a lot.” Talk about the way Atkinson leaps between storylines and characters, and the effect this has on you as a reader.
15. A few times, were told: “First things were good, last things not so much so.” How might you interpret this statement in terms of the events in the novel? Consider the theme of “innocence” as well.
16. Reggies mum used to always say “Back soon,” or “Je reviens” — until she didnt return, of course. And when Reggie leaves Jackson at the hospital, were told “Reggie was never going to be a person who didnt come back.” Discuss the importance of “coming back” in the novel — not only to Reggie, but for Jackson (wheres Tessa?), Joanna, and even David Needler and Andrew Decker.
17. Louise and Patrick, Joanna and Neil, Jackson and Tessa, even Reggies mother and Gary… not one of these couples seems to be worth keeping together. And while Jackson is something of a serial spouse, Louise sees herself as completely unsuited to the role. Discuss Atkinsons portrayal of marriage here, and what it means for the various characters.
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