Synopses & Reviews
When Will There Be Good News? is the brilliant new novel from the acclaimed author of Case Histories and One Good Turn, once again featuring private investigator Jackson Brodie.
Thirty years ago, six-year-old Joanna witnessed the brutal murders of her mother, brother and sister, before escaping into a field, and running for her life. Now, the man convicted of the crime is being released from prison, meaning Dr. Joanna Hunter has one more reason to dwell on the pain of that day, especially with her own infant son to protect.
Sixteen-year-old Reggie, recently orphaned and wise beyond her years, works as a nanny for Joanna Hunter, but has no idea of the womans horrific past. All Reggie knows is that Dr. Hunter cares more about her baby than life itself, and that the two of them make up just the sort of family Reggie wished she had: that unbreakable bond, that safe port in the storm. When Dr. Hunter goes missing, Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried, despite the decidedly shifty business interests of Joannas husband, Neil, and the unknown whereabouts of the newly freed murderer, Andrew Decker.
Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is looking for a missing person of her own, murderer David Needler, whose family lives in terror that he will return to finish the job he started. So its not surprising that she listens to Reggies outrageous thoughts on Dr. Hunters disappearance with only mild attention. But when ex-police officer and Private Investigator, Jackson Brodie arrives on the scene, with connections to Reggie and Joanna Hunter of his own, the details begin to snap into place. And, as Louise knows, once Jackson is involved theres no telling how many criminal threads he will be able to pull together — or how many could potentially end up wrapped around his own neck.
In an extraordinary virtuoso display, Kate Atkinson has produced one of the most engrossing, masterful, and piercingly insightful novels of this or any year. It is also as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, as Atkinson weaves in and out of the lives of her eccentric, grief-plagued, and often all-too-human cast. Yet out of the excesses of her characters and extreme events that shake their worlds comes a relatively simple message, about being good, loyal, and true. When Will There Be Good News? shows us what it means to survive the past and the present, and to have the strength to just keep on keeping on.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Kate Atkinson was born in York in 1951, where her parents ran a surgical supplies shop, and spent a lot of time reading as a child. Shes even commented that being an only child and learning to enjoy her own company, combined with her love of books, probably helped prepare her well for the solitary life of the writer. Atkinson then attended the University of Dundee, where she studied literature and completed a doctoral thesis on the history of the short story form, and came close to pursuing an academic career. However, it was when she left the university and began writing fiction as an escape from the day-to-day domesticity of child-raising and home-making that the seeds of Atkinsons true calling appeared — the first story she ever sent off for consideration won a major prize, the Womans Own
Short Story Competition. As shes explained in one interview, “That was how I became a writer, really. It was a very slow burn. That was from first putting pen to paper around 1982 to winning that competition in 1986 to a novel being accepted in 1994.” That first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum
, went on to win the prestigious Whitbread Prize for Book of the Year in 1995.
Ever since, Kate Atkinson has been an internationally bestselling author. Her next novels, Human Croquet (1997) and Emotionally Weird (2000), were followed by a collection of short stories called Not the End of the World (2002). It was with this book that Atkinson began to experiment with other narrative points of view. As she explained in one interview, “I had really had enough of the first person by the time I had done with the third book… It was one of the many reasons I wrote a collection of stories at that point, because I wanted to break that voice and get away from it, as well as explore other voices. With stories you can get away with more, and move around, try things on… Once I got the hang of it I found it very liberating, because once you know that character and you want to write them, you just step into their head and think like they think and you write it down, so you can be very fluid and direct.”
Next came Case Histories (2004), a novel that marked Atkinsons first foray into crime fiction — a label that Atkinson finds to be quite limiting, considering that all of her books have involved mystery or crime elements, and genre classification can be so narrow-minded and elitist. As she explained in one interview, “There are good books, bad books, mediocre books. Why is it necessary to say its not any good because it is a crime novel, a romance, or whatever? Jane Austen wrote romance for heavens sake. Dickens wrote crime novels.” At the same time, though, Atkinson is a fan of crime fiction herself, so the label doesnt really bother her — just those people who use it pejoratively. Anyway, the critics and award panels have agreed with Atkinson: Case Histories won the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Prix Westminster, and has received worldwide acclaim. As the Guardian reviewer put it, the novel was her “best book yet, an astonishingly complex and moving literary detective story that made me sob but also snort with laughter. Its the sort of novel you have to start rereading the minute you've finished it.”
Case Histories also marks the first appearance of private detective Jackson Brodie (who has proven to be immensely popular with readers), as he attempts to unravel the truth behind three crime files that have been left stagnant for years. And it is in this story — or rather the multiple storylines that make it up — that Atkinson truly begins to play with using different perspectives to gradually unveil her plot. The New York Times described her style as having a “cinematic cleverness,” where characters are left out when youd expect them to be present, or the point of view changes abruptly, or small “hiccups in time” can add new layers of meaning. Atkinson would bring back both Jackson Brodie and this narrative style with her novel One Good Turn (2006), which is set during the Edinburgh Festival and once again places Brodie at the heart of multiple intersecting mysteries. “The most fun Ive had with a novel this year,” Ian Rankin noted.
Atkinsons latest novel, When Will There be Good News?, is the third to feature Jackson Brodie, although the author says she “never thought of it as a trilogy”: “I just thought of it as three books with the same character moving on and evolving, I think, so that by the end of book three, Jackson is in a very different place to what he was at the beginning of book one.” And while Atkinson is herself moving on with her next project — an unrelated novel featuring two female characters at a murder mystery weekend — she does hope to return to Jackson Brodie one day. But for now she feels that the end of When Will There Be Good News? is a “good place to leave him, because he needs to recover, I think, from all kinds of things that have happened to him.”
From the Hardcover edition.
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.