No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, September 28, 2006

#85: Not the End of the World -- Kate Atkinson

Thirteen linked tales (or possibly eleven linked tales and a framing narrative): recommended by several friends, and I can see why. Atkinson's stories don't always have a beginning, a middle and an end -- at least not on the page -- and, though they echo Greek myth, they don't precisely mirror it. The Persephone figure is a mother: Atalanta's immortality draws as much on modern myths as ancient ones: Artemis is a nanny, and really rather good at it.

Most (though not all) of the stories are told from the point of view of a female character, and the same characters appear again and again: Hawk, the seducer of older women (who may also be the Egyptian sun-god, who falls prey to a rather unusual cat); Heidi and Trudi, the twins; the myriad Zane women; Pam McFarlane, English teacher and ineffectual mother ...

And there are recurrent themes too: wedding favours, the number five, twins and doppelgangers, a soap opera called Green Acres, a rare beast called the wolfkin, a striped grey cat, Buffy, Playstation games, and rosy-fingered Dawn.

Though the stories are influenced by, rather than derived from, Greek myth, there's a strong sense of a familiar setting: as though, if I sat down and mapped all the relationships, the dysfunctional families and absent fathers and metamorphoses, and then filed off the names, the shape of the tree would be familiar.

Not all the stories would be as effectual without the supporting structure of the others. I'm especially intrigued by the post-apocalyptic city (possibly, as in so many of the stories, Edinburgh) that's the backdrop to the first and last stories in the book, 'Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping' and 'Not The End of the World'. Atkinson's definitely of the 'never apologise, never explain' school of writing, which can lead to confusion: but her cultural references and recurrent motifs provide enough context for the engaged reader.

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