Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Book Review: Case Histories

I spent part of my last evening in New York at Barnes and Noble, browsing the aisles and talking myself out of a ruinous shopping spree. I could hear a devil (or angel?) on one shoulder whispering, "Go for it! It'll be a long time before you get another chance to pick from so many English language books! Haven't you always wanted to read this one? And that one's a classic, everyone should own a copy!"

Luckily, common sense prevailed: books are heavy, and since I'd succumbed to the argument before, over clothes, I already had a great deal to lug over. Besides, I told myself sternly, I should be reading German books (though I still haven't found Richard Scarry's Big Book of Deutschewörter, which is roughly where I ought to start). Plus, there's always the miracle of Amazon.com.

I did end up getting two novels, though. One is going to be a birthday present for Swissy Pie, so I won't spill the beans in case he drops by for a visit. The other one I purchased on the grounds I needed something for the plane ride: Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. An excellent decision, if I do say so myself, though my friend Dalia gets the credit for recommending it to me. If I hadn't been excessively sleepy from those two whiskey and tonics and a couple of follow-on glasses of wine, I would have stayed up the entire flight just to finish it.

The book is difficult to describe. Set primarily in Cambridge, England, it's technically a mystery - a mystery about multiple murders, at that. But it's far too literary to be associated with the predictible thrillers found on grocery store shelves. The writing is by turns spare and gritty, then lush and evocative, then humorous and ironic, as the point of view changes from one protagonist to another. And despite a large cast, the characters are mostly well-fleshed out, from the pathetically fat and unloved Amelia Land, sister to a girl who went missing decades ago, to the childish, bitter, yet oddly sympathetic private investigator Jackson Brodie. By the end, it's clear that the satisfaction of Case Histories doesn't derive from finding out whodunnit, but from examining the impact that deaths - particularly sudden, shocking ones - have on the survivors.

I could complain that the plot is driven by a few too many coincidences, or that the ending is simply too tidy. But those are small complaints for a novel that is, by and large, deeply satisfying.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous heather said...

it's worth remembering that Amazon.de has a section devoted to English language books - it's not huge but there's some stuff there and it saves on postage. Also, if you have any Brockenhaus near you (they're like Goodwill Stores) then you may find some English language books too.

February 13, 2007 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

I took a quick look at Amazon.de and the selection's not bad at all. But the problem with it, as with all online stores, is that you more or less need to know what you want ahead of time. I'll miss the joy of simply browsing...

Will look into the Brockenhaus, which sounds interesting.

February 13, 2007 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

you should post your reviews on our expat book site too!! www.readerswithoutborders.com

I'm glad to hear that you're getting off to a good start!

February 18, 2007 at 8:07 PM  
Blogger Dalia said...

So glad you liked it. That brings to 5 the people I've shared that book with and we all enjoyed it. I had a dream the night before I finished it about the ending. I was shocked my subconscious figured it out!!

February 28, 2007 at 12:52 AM  

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